Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 29th edition

August 29, 2003: US soldiers signal for the car they were searching to move on after they came under fire at a temporary checkpoint on the southeastern outskirts of Baghdad.

August 29, 2002:

Bush wrong to use pretext as excuse to invade Iraq

Vice President Cheney's speech this week showed that the administration has no new evidence to support its claim that Iraq poses an immediate threat to the United States. Instead, Cheney used standard, vague terms: "no doubt" Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction or will acquire nuclear weapons "fairly soon." The administration also points to the possible presence of fleeing al-Qaeda members in northern Iraq, perhaps of senior rank. But it has difficulty tying them directly to Saddam because the area is largely under the control of Kurdish opposition leader Jallal Tallabani, who has worked with the Bush administration against Saddam.

Without convincing evidence of imminent danger, administration officials have been dusting off old cases that hint at Iraqi plots and conspiracies, but are unsupported by facts. Many worry that such incidents will be exploited as pretexts to justify pre-emptive strikes. The Navy, for instance, is considering changing the status of a pilot shot down over Iraq during the Gulf War from missing in action to captured. But, given no known physical evidence to support that possibility nor any new facts, some see this as one more cynical political pretext for invasion.

Bush administration officials also have been reviving the old story that Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met in the Czech Republic capital of Prague with an Iraqi agent five months before the attacks — a possible link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. An unnamed senior administration official told the Los Angeles Times that evidence of such a meeting "holds up." A federal law enforcement official, the Times reported, said the FBI has been reviewing Atta's records with "renewed vigor" for a possible link to Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently added at a news conference that Iraq "had a relationship" with al-Qaeda.

But senior U.S. intelligence officials have discounted the meeting. "We ran down literally hundreds of thousands of leads and checked every record we could get our hands on," said FBI Director Robert Mueller. The records revealed that Atta was in Virginia Beach during the time he supposedly met the Iraqi in Prague.

While the administration is under increasing pressure to make its case for invasion, using as pretexts supposed instances such as these carries grave dangers. The past holds lessons about pretext and making the right — and wrong — decisions.

One of the most outrageous uses of pretext took place during the Kennedy administration after the failed Bay of Pigs operation, in which the CIA wrongly underestimated the amount of internal support for Fidel Castro.

With the CIA out of the picture, the Joint Chiefs of Staff saw a grand opportunity for the military to launch an all-out war against Cuba. But they needed a pretext. The answer was Operation Northwoods: The Joint Chiefs would secretly launch a war of terror on the U.S. public — then blame it on Castro.

According to long-hidden top-secret documents I obtained from the National Archives, Operation Northwoods called for innocent people to be shot on U.S. streets; for boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba to be sunk; for waves of terrorism in Washington, Miami and elsewhere. Using phony evidence to blame Castro, the Joint Chiefs would get their needed pretext.

Each member of the Joint Chiefs signed off on the plan. Then the chairman hand-carried it to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara — who promptly rejected it.

Two years later, U.S. generals were looking for another pretext to go to war, this time in Vietnam. In the summer of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson sought to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam's civil war. The decision was made to launch hit-and-run attacks against coastal North Vietnamese targets while a slow-moving destroyer, the USS Maddox, sat just off the shore in international waters. Knowing the North Vietnamese would associate the nearby warship with the attacks, the Pentagon likely hoped to provoke a retaliatory strike against the vessel — the perfect pretext for a declaration of war.

Indeed, North Vietnamese patrol boats fired torpedoes at the ship — but missed. The Maddox sailed safely away. McNamara ordered the largely useless coastal attacks to continue and sent the ship back to its original dangerous position.

Two nights after the first attack, the USS C. Turner Joy, escorting the Maddox, sent messages to Washington indicating the ship was under attack. It was later found that no such attack took place; the messages were blamed on nervous crewmembers and radar "ghost images." But it was the excuse Johnson and McNamara sought. They pressed Congress for a declaration of war. Captured by the moment's hysteria, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. An incident that never took place became the pretext for expanding a war that would claim the lives of more than 50,000 Americans as well as a million-plus Vietnamese.

"Many of the people who were associated with the war were looking for any excuse to initiate bombing," recalled George Ball, at the time a State undersecretary. "The sending of a destroyer up the Tonkin Gulf was primarily for provocation. ... There was a feeling that if the destroyer got into some trouble, that it would provide the provocation we needed."

History is layered with the bodies of those who have died when someone mistakes zealotry for patriotism and pretext for truth. If the Bush administration does embark on a bloody war in the Middle East, it should be based on certainty, not pretext.

Read the rest at USA Today

August 29, 2003:

Burning money in Iraq

A mid all the recall-related fretting over California's budget, it's been hard to keep up with the money mess at the federal level. Let's refresh ourselves.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office revised its estimates yet again this week and announced that the federal budget deficit will soar to a record $480 billion next year, reaching $1.4 trillion over the coming decade.

That alone is very bad news. Many economists, including Fed chief Alan Greenspan, have warned that chronic deficits of this magnitude can cause interest rates to rise and the economy to sputter.

But things are worse than the budget office lets on. These new estimates don't include the rising cost of the war in Iraq, which, if factored into the mix, would push the 2004 deficit well beyond $500 billion.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has estimated that the "burn rate" -- his words -- for our little exercise in Mideast nation-building is currently running $3.9 billion a month, or nearly $48 billion a year.

That's a highly conservative figure. It doesn't include the cost of replacing damaged vehicles and equipment, or the cost of munitions used in daily skirmishes. Some experts say the annual war cost is actually closer to $60 billion.

Just for the sake of argument, though, let's take Rumsfeld at his word.

At $3.9 billion a month, that means the nation's 105 million households are each ponying up $37 every four weeks to cover the cost of the war.

That doesn't sound so bad, does it? OK, let's look at this another way.

The average middle school teacher in the United States earns $43,570 a year,

according to the Department of Labor. If all households coughed up an extra $37 a month, we could have 1.1 million more teachers.

Or we could have:

-- 1.3 million more firefighters.

-- 1.2 million more police officers.

-- 995,000 more registered nurses.

-- 2.8 million more child care workers.

But we don't pay more for such things because most Americans believe they're taxed heavily enough already. We aren't being asked to pay an additional war-in-Iraq tax for just that reason.

Instead, we expect the government to do the best it can with what we give it.

That's the idea, anyway.

The Bush administration, which has cut taxes three times in the past three years, is determined to spend whatever it deems necessary in the "war on terrorism" even as it systematically slashes the government's revenue.

"In the last two and half years, this nation has acted decisively to confront great challenges," President Bush said the other day while raising money for his re-election. "I came to the office of president of the United States to solve problems, instead of passing them on to future presidents and future generations."

He was referring to problems like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, wherever they are. Bush apparently doesn't see a budget deficit lasting until at least 2012 as a problem for future presidents and future generations.

Moreover, he seems blissfully unaware that if his tax cuts are made permanent -- a goal he has sworn to achieve -- the cumulative deficit over the next decade will balloon to almost $3 trillion.

The $400 billion Congress plans to spend overhauling Medicare over the same period would push the total even higher.

"It's like living off your credit card," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization advocating fiscal responsibility. "Eventually, taxes will have to go up to pay the bill."

He added: "Things aren't going to get any better as we go on. The retirement of the Baby Boomers is looming right at the end of the next 10 years."

Indeed, and current projections don't begin to estimate the strain on federal coffers as 77 million Boomers start cashing in on Social Security and Medicare benefits.

I've noted before that the next five years represent our best chance to get the nation's finances in order. Until 2008, Baby Boomers will be at their peak earning power. They'll never be pulling down more money on an aggregate basis than right now.

Yet the Bush administration is determined to forgo as much of that money as it can, thus missing a golden opportunity to prepare for the coming fiscal storm.

At the same time, though, the White House is spending like a sailor on shore leave. Paul Bremer, the administration's man in occupied Iraq, was asked in a recent interview how much it will cost to rebuild the country.

"It's probably well above $50 billion, $60 billion, maybe $100 billion," he answered. Then, as if that didn't sound wishy-washy enough, he added, "It's a lot of money."

Bremer flew back to Washington this week to ask the White House for a few billion more to tide him over until a larger budget bill can be introduced this fall.

For his part, Bush said he'd help out by cutting annual raises for more than 1 million federal employees -- a move that will free up billions for Iraq but impact the spending power of Americans on the home front.

We could have more teachers, or firefighters, or police officers or nurses. Instead we have an open-ended commitment to policing and reconstructing a Mideast nation that may or may not have posed a threat down the road.

And we'll put off paying the cost for many years, leaving a mountain of debt and obligations for our children to somehow tackle -- the president's self-congratulatory remarks notwithstanding.

Kind of makes California's troubles seem quaint by comparison.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

August 29, 2004:

One More Casualty of the War on Terrorism

Millions of Americans watching the buildup to war in Iraq and the debates in the United Nations concluded that the U.N. was impossibly wrongheaded, determined to thwart the United States in its effort to make the world safe from Saddam Hussein. After all, President Bush, and the globally respected secretary of state, Colin Powell, argued strenuously that the U.S. way was the right way, if only an obstinate U.N. would listen.

Looking back now, long after the easy march to Baghdad unraveled into looting, murder, kidnapping and general destruction with no clear resolution, perhaps some Americans are wondering what would have happened if their leaders had listened instead of argued. No doubt, they now have a very different image of the United Nations. Unfortunately, so does much of the rest of the world.

The standing of the United Nations, which began to erode after the collapse of the Soviet Union made the United States the only superpower, has plummeted in the post-9/11 period, and the events of one year ago remind us of the depths to which it has fallen, in the Muslim world in particular. Last August, the United Nations team led by Sergio Vieira de Mello, the secretary general's special representative in Iraq, was getting nervous about the widespread perception that the U.N. mission was an adjunct of what had rapidly become a very unpopular U.S. occupation. Indeed, on the morning of Aug. 19, which would see 22 of my colleagues die in a vicious terrorist attack, the chiefs of communication of all the U.N. agencies in Baghdad had met in an emergency session to hammer out a plan to counter this perception of our role in Iraq.

Nothing we might have done in this regard would have deterred the fanatics who blew up our headquarters that fateful day, killing the widely respected Vieira de Mello and many others on his team, but the lack of a strong Iraqi, Arab and Muslim outcry against this atrocity chilled us to the bone, even as it revealed the ferocity of the anger toward the U.N. That anger was based, essentially, on the perception in the Arab and Muslim world that the U.N. was unable to contain or even condemn U.S. and Israel military excesses, the most explosive of which were the invasion of Iraq and the brutal Israeli suppression of the second Palestinian intifada, which began in the fall of 2000.

In a rare challenge to the United States, the U.N. Security Council had, in fact, refused to authorize the Iraq war. This, however, was quickly forgotten by Muslims when the U.N. effectively sanctioned the invasion after the fact with resolutions that accepted U.S. occupation goals in Iraq.

Ever since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Muslims have considered the U.N. attitude toward Iraq as the epitome of the world body's profound double standards. That aggression had led the Security Council to authorize a devastating war in 1991 and to also impose its most punitive sanctions ever. UNICEF estimated that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children were associated with the sanctions, though other studies put the figure closer to 300,000. In 1996, Madeleine Albright, then U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told "60 Minutes," "The price is worth it," a statement she later said she regretted. The punishments the U.N. meted out to Iraq outraged Muslims, because the organization had for more than a quarter of a century allowed Israel to occupy and expand control of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese land with impunity. That 1991 war, accompanied by the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, was one of the primary catalysts for our age of global terrorism, which began with the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

The new Iraq war is seen by even the most moderate Muslims as taking the double standard to a new high. While American leaders argued that the war would liberate Iraq from a dangerous dictator and remove a threat of weapons of mass destruction, Muslims saw it as a crusade by U.S. neoconservatives to crush and occupy Islamic countries, in the guise of fighting terrorism. And Muslims were even more infuriated when the Security Council, anxious not to further antagonize the world's lone superpower, subsequently legitimized a war and occupation that most of the rest of the world had clamorously opposed.

Muslims see the threats of military intervention against another Muslim regime, Sudan's, as the latest example of that double standard, pointing to how the United States and other powers stood by as a terrible genocide unfolded in Rwanda, killing 800,000 people in just 100 days. A year later, more than 7,000 Bosnians under U.N. protection were slaughtered as the major powers looked on.

Partisans from the Muslim-Western divide will argue that the U.N. obstructs the achievement of American goals or is subservient to them. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between -- but is much closer to the Muslim perception, I would argue. It could hardly be otherwise. The United States is the world's mightiest nation, and U.N. member states and Secretary General Kofi Annan know that without a close relationship with the United States, the U.N. would be irrelevant to global security. But there's the rub: If that relationship is too close, it will even more surely doom the United Nations, whose greatest strength is a commitment to building global consensus on vital issues.

Ironically, it was in Iraq that the perception of too close a relationship between the United States and U.N. was so far off-base. The close, early relationship that Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian who was considered a brilliant negotiator of post-conflict nation-building, had formed with L. Paul Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, had dissipated by late July 2003. The contact between them became intermittent once the CPA could deal directly with the Iraqis it had appointed, with Vieira de Mello's help, to the Governing Council. Vieira de Mello was deeply dismayed by occupation tactics as well as the arrest and conditions of detention of the thousands imprisoned at Abu Ghraib prison. And he argued that a vote on a new constitution was vital.

The low point in the relationship had come at the end of that July, when the United States, backed by Britain, blocked in the Security Council the creation of a full-fledged Iraq U.N. mission. Vieira de Mello believed such a mission was vital. And later, even as the United States pushed strongly for the U.N. to stay in Iraq in the face of terrible danger after the Aug. 19 bombing that took Vieira de Mello's life, the Bush administration continued to refuse to consider any U.N. role as it planned the creation of post-war Iraqi institutions. The November 2003 agreement on which all current transitional arrangements are based does not even mention the U.N.

Clearly, the Bush administration wanted a U.N. presence in occupied Iraq as a legitimizing factor -- not as a partner with a vast reservoir of post-conflict peace-building experience that could be used to bring the occupation to an early end. Those of us in Baghdad last summer knew that such a partnership was essential to averting a major conflagration in Iraq.

The United States did finally turn to the U.N. in January, when Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, created a real crisis by mobilizing tens of thousands of protesters to campaign against the plan to choose the new interim government without elections. But the U.N. that the Bush administration turned to was not the Security Council -- where major players such as France, China and Russia would have demanded major changes in U.S. occupation policies. Instead, Washington turned to Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, his special Mideast envoy. Even that proved cosmetic, since neither the interim president nor the prime minister were the choices of Annan and Brahimi.

The Bush administration places relentless pressure on countries to support even the most questionable aspects of its war on terrorism, regardless of the damage that such support would pose for those countries' stability. The current drive to get a U.N. mission operating in Iraq again under the protection of forces from Muslim countries is a perfect example. Such a presence in Iraq would pose excruciating risks to both the U.N. and any countries that might comply, especially Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The United States is not desisting. Once again, it is pushing its short-term goals at the expense of longer-term stability, and has learned little from the cataclysm that befell the U.N. a year ago this month.

Washington shows no interest in addressing its deep rift with moderate Muslims, even though it surely must know that it will never be able to win the war against Islamic terrorism through a military strategy alone, without the support of this billion-strong community. Except for a tiny fringe, Muslims want no truck with terror, which has wrought such enormous suffering for them.

The United Nations is an irreplaceable institution because it struggles, however imperfectly, to reach global consensus on the most critical issues facing humanity. It is that universality that allows it to confer legitimacy on the most contentious enterprises. The terrorists who blew up the mission in Iraq dealt a severe blow to U.N. fortunes in the Middle East, but much more lasting damage is being done to the U.N. ideal by demands for it to see the world only through American eyes.

Ultimately its capital will be squandered and its resolutions rendered worthless for large chunks of humanity, particularly Muslims.

Member states and the secretary general should see this eroding legitimacy as the greatest challenge the organization faces. But they will be unable to make effective headway unless the United States itself recognizes that it needs, in its own interest, to show greater respect for the United Nations.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 29, 2005:

More costly than 'the war to end all wars'

Despite the relatively small number of American armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (140,000), the war effort is rapidly shaping up to be the third-most expensive war in United States history.

This conflict has already cost each American at least $850 in military and reconstruction costs since October 2001.

If the war lasts another five years, it will cost nearly $1.4 trillion, calculates Linda Bilmes, who teaches budgeting at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. That's nearly $4,745 per capita. Her estimate is thorough. She includes not only the military cost but also such things as veterans' benefits and additional interest on the federal debt.

But even in stripped-down terms, looking only at military costs and using current dollars, the war's cost for the US already exceeds that of World War I.

That's in money, not in blood and tears. Fatalities from the combined Afghanistan-Iraq conflict now exceed 2,000. American participation in 1917-18 in World War I, a war infamous for its trench-warfare slaughter, resulted in 53,513 US deaths.

In constant inflation-adjusted dollars, the current conflict is the fourth most costly US war, behind World War II, Vietnam, and Korea. ( See chart below.)

By the end of September, its projected military cost will be $252 billion. The amount spent on the war in Iraq ($186 billion) and Afghanistan ($66 billion) is "inching up" on the cost of the Korean War, says Steven Kosiak, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment in Washington. CSBA provided the estimate based on government data.

The chart below, researched by Yale University economist William Nordhaus just before President Bush launched the Iraq war (and now updated for inflation), estimates Korea's military cost at $361 billion.

Given the Iraq-Afghanistan war is costing from $80 billion to $100 billion a year, its price is likely to exceed that of the Korean War by late 2006 or 2007 - if it lasts that long.

Last week, President Bush told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that the US will "finish the task" in Afghanistan and Iraq to honor those already fallen. Some analysts say Bush's statement implies that he anticipates the war lasting a long time.

Before the war is over, military costs may reach $500 billion, reckons Gordon Adams, an expert at George Washington University in Washington. He wonders if President Bush will make an "electoral calculation" next spring by pulling 30,000 or so troops out of Iraq before the midterm congressional elections. That would lower costs.

In terms of expenditures per soldier, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are the most costly ever for the US, experts say. That's because of expensive technology and equipment, the Pentagon's heavy reliance on well-paid private contractors for some security operations, the higher pay and other inducements for an all-volunteer force, rising fuel costs, and difficulties in supplying troops in the Middle East.

Military costs run at least $6 billion per month, Mr. Adams calculates. Military estimates, he says, are based on oil costing $36 per-barrel, not the current $67. Fuel is a major bill in military operations, and the US must import much of the fuel it uses in Iraq.

Military costs are only one aspect. Spending for reconstruction and security, so far, add up to $24 billion for Iraq and $7 billion in Afghanistan, Kosiak figures. He puts the combined ongoing military and reconstruction costs at $7 billion to $8 billion per month.

In her estimate, Ms. Bilmes figures on $460 billion in military costs for the next five years, plus $315 billion in veterans' costs, $220 billion in added interest, and $119 billion for the economic impact of a $5 increase per barrel in the price of oil through July 2010. "I tried to be conservative," she says.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

Critic of U.S. contract in Iraq gets demotion

A top U.S. Army contracting official who criticized a large, noncompetitive Iraq contract with the Halliburton Company was demoted for what the army called a poor job performance.

The official, Bunnatine Greenhouse, is a 20-year veteran of military procurement and for the last several years had been the chief overseer of contracts at the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that has managed much of the reconstruction work in Iraq.

The demotion on Saturday removed her from the elite Senior Executive Service and reassigned her to a lesser job in the corps' civil works division.

Greenhouse's lawyer, Michael Kohn, called the action "obvious reprisal" for the strong objections she raised in 2003 to a series of corps decisions involving the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown Root, which has garnered more than $10 billion for work in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"She is being demoted because of her strict adherence to procurement requirements and the army's preference to sidestep them when it suits their needs," he said in an interview Sunday.

Sanders, spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said Sunday that the action against Greenhouse had been approved by the Department of the Army. And in a memorandum dated June 3, 2005, as the demotion was being arranged, the commander of the corps, Lieutenant General Carl Strock, said the administrative record "clearly demonstrates that Ms. Greenhouse's removal from the SES is based on her performance and not in retaliation for any disclosures of alleged improprieties that she may have made."

Known as a stickler for the rules on competition, Greenhouse initially received stellar performance ratings. But her reviews grew critical after she began objecting to decisions she saw as improperly favoring KBR. Often she hand-wrote her concerns on the contract documents, a practice that corps leaders called unprofessional and confusing.

In October 2003, Strock, citing two consecutive performance reviews that called Greenhouse an uncooperative manager, informed her that she would be demoted.

Greenhouse fought the demotion through official channels, and publicly described her clashes with corps leaders over a five-year, $7 billion oil-repair contract that had been awarded - in secret - to KBR. She had argued that if urgency required a no-bid contract, its duration should be brief.

Greenhouse had also fought the granting of a waiver to KBR in December 2003, approving the high prices it had paid for fuel imports for Iraq, and had objected to the automatic extension of a large contract to the company for logistical support in the Balkans. Her demotion was delayed when the army's senior legal officials said they would first seek an independent review of her reprisal complaint. "The army has reviewed this matter to the Department of Defense Inspector General for their review and action, as appropriate," said an Oct. 22, 2004, letter to her lawyer from Robert Fano, chief of civilian personnel law.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

August 29, 2006:

Money Slashed for Troops' Brain Injury Treatment

The head of biggest combat veterans groups lambasted congressional action that cut in half federal funding for the research and treatment of brain injuries caused by explosions, which one neurology expert has called the signature injury of the war in Iraq.

The proposed funding cut "clearly indicates that the Congress is out of touch with the realities and consequences of war," Jim Mueller, the outgoing commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a Vietnam War veteran, said in a written statement. "You either take care of the troops or you do not."

Vice President Cheney, addressing the group's national convention in Reno, Nev., Monday pledged to "enhance the respect shown by our government to veterans ... not just in words but in resources."

The Bush administration has requested $7 million in funding for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center as it has done for the last several years, but in the past, Congress has given the center another $7 million, for a total of $14 million. This year, though, Congress has not added the additional funding.

The House passed its version of the spending bill in June and the Senate is to take up the bill when lawmakers return from their August recess.

A spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee said the reduction in funding from previous years was the result of spending restraints.

The center, actually a network of facilities around the country, is a collaboration between the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department. Founded in 1992, it operates at seven military and VA medical centers around the nation, and runs a civilian clinic in Charlottesville, Va...

Traumatic brain injuries result from a violent blow to the head -- what's known as a closed-head injury -- or from a bullet or shrapnel that penetrates the brain.

George Zitnay, a Charlottesville brain injury expert who is a co-founder of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, told ABC News earlier this year that traumatic brain injury is the "signature injury of the war on terrorism."

That's because of the proliferation of roadside bombs in Iraq and improved body armor that shields troops from lethal wounds but can do nothing about the violent jolts to even helmeted heads that can damage the brain as it bounces off the inside of the skull.

As a result, more troops are surviving injuries suffered in Iraq than in previous wars, but more troops are surviving with permanent injuries. According to Pentagon data reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, only about 10 percent of wounds in Iraq are lethal -- less than half the rate in the first Persian Gulf War, Vietnam and Korea each, and a full one-third of the rate in World War II.

By one estimate, as many as 10 percent of all troops in Iraq and up to 20 percent of front-line infantry suffer concussions during combat tours.

Traumatic brain injury can have a wide range of effects. Depending on the part of the brain that's damaged, victims can have difficulty understanding or formulating speech, counting or doing simple math, or undergo personality changes.

"It is absolutely inexcusable that lawmakers would slash funding during a time of war for a research center that is earning its keep by addressing the exact types of injuries our troops are suffering," said Jim Mueller of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "This research center is an investment in the future potential of traumatically disabled soldiers. It is not an expense."

Read the rest at ABC News