“Americans Watch War Take Ugly Turn”

New York Times

Up to nine dead Marines. A dozen soldiers in an Army convoy attacked and missing, some looking glum and scared in Iraqi custody while comrades lay dead nearby. Uncounted wounded on multiple, acrid battlefields.

Then the self-inflicted harm: a British warplane downed by American friendly fire, with two Britons dead; a deadly grenade attack on a U.S. compound in Kuwait blamed on an American soldier with “an attitude problem.”

The bad news was not confined to Iraq. In nearly forgotten Afghanistan, a Pave Hawk helicopter went down. Six died.

It’s not that everything was suddenly going wrong. It just seemed that way after a start that seemed to go almost all right. And now war leaders had to deal with images it hoped would never come from this invasion.

“Certainly, I don’t think that these pictures will damage either the psychology of our soldiers, morale of our soldiers or the steadfastness of our government or the resolve of our people,” said Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, deputy commander of the Central Command.

“We’re a pretty tough people.”

Through it all, the vanguard of the invasion force moved to within 100 miles of Baghdad on Sunday after an extraordinary push north, through a hail of machine-gun fire from a defeated Iraqi corps.

But the lasting image was of a terrified Army maintenance soldier, one of five captives interviewed by Iraqi TV as four bodies lay on the floor — their gruesome fate shown on Arab TV, but not here.

“I come to fix broke stuff,” he said when asked why he was in Iraq. He said he was from Kansas.

Asked Monday whether a lot of resistance had been expected, Lt. Col. Ronnie McCourt, a spokesman for British forces in the Gulf, said in Qatar: “That’s not unexpected. This is not a videogame where everything is clear and neat and tidy. Some enemy who feel that they want to carry on fighting will inevitably do so. We have contingency plans for this. We don’t take anything for granted.”

From President Bush down, officials warned from the start it wouldn’t be easy. “A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict,” Bush said on the night he unleashed the armed forces.

But officials also raised expectations that Iraqi soldiers might give up early on the defense of their country — shocked and awed out of their will to fight.

They said all 8,000 soldiers in Iraq’s 51st Mechanized Division in southern Iraq surrendered, then clarified that a day later. The division’s top commanders had given up and the troops had scattered.

Some U.S. officials led people to expect a quick campaign with precision munitions, retired CIA counterterrorism official Vincent Cannistraro said Sunday.

“People thought the Iraqis would be waving little American flags like it was occupied France in World War II,” he said. “This is not an occupied country. It is Iraq and it is run by Iraqis, and for better or worse they are not welcoming Americans as liberators.

“… No one is welcoming the Americans until Saddam’s body is on the ground and people can go over and kick it,” Cannistraro added.

On Sunday, the casualty count rose. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld saw the videotape of apparent American POWs for the first time while being interviewed on a TV news show.

Everyone acknowledged the fight was getting harder.

“A tough day of resistance is all relative, of course,” the Central Command’s Abizaid said. “It’s the toughest day of resistance that we’ve had thus far, but it’s also a day in which we have continued the attack in almost every area.”

The pain of it all was made worse in some minds because the troubles seemed the result of unfair fighting or dangers well out of the norm even for warfare. The Marines were assaulted by Iraqis who had flown the white flag of surrender, then opened up on them, officials said.

Everyone struggled to understand the bizarre grenade attack at a Kuwaiti command center of the 101st Airborne. An Army captain died and 15 soldiers were injured, three seriously. Sgt. Asan Akbar of the 326th Engineer Battalion was in custody.

“When somebody’s firing at you, you know who the enemy is,” said George Heath, spokesman for Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 101st. “When they’re standing in the same … chow line, or using the same shower with you, it’s hard to recognize.”

The most disturbing images were used judiciously. CNN showed one still picture of a dead soldier, although the scene was hard to make out because of banner headlines on the screen.

In 1993, 18 Americans died in a 17-hour firefight with a Somali warlord’s militia and the bodies of two of the Americans were dragged through the streets. The United States quickly quit the peacekeeping operation.

No one expected Sunday’s setbacks to throw the United States or Britain off course. They’ve got 250,000 soldiers, sailors and aviators in place and their destination is Baghdad.

This entry was posted in Veterans for Common Sense News. Bookmark the permalink.