Time Magazine reports that the military has reluctantly launched an investigation into the allegations that Marines summarily executed 15 Iraqis civilians in Haditha last November. This comes at the same time that the military is investigating the deaths of 11 civilians last week in the village of Ishaqi, where Iraqi police say Marines killed a whole family execution style. [Night Ridder] The military initially said the civilians were "collateral damage" from a fire fight between them and a suspected al-Qaeda member, but the Iraqi police rejected that claim. Farouq Hussein, a local police official, told Reuters that all the victims were shot in the back of the head. "It was a clear and perfect crime without any doubt," he said.
If this is true, what was going on in these two units? The Marines Corp. isn't exactly an organization that is known for its trigger happy killers. The Marines are the creme de la creme of military, their discipline and professionalism is legendary. If these Marine units just went off on their own and decided to kill civilians in revenge for the death of one of their own and then tried to make it look like it was the Iraqis who did it, with the bullet in the back of the head thing --the Interior Ministry's trademark ---we've got a much bigger problem in the military and the strain its under than just endless rotations and equipment fatigue.
For a while now I've been noticing the large number of NCOs we're losing in Iraq every week and I've been wondering how long we can sustain the loss of so many experienced members of the military and not start to suffer from it. The NCOs are the backbone of the military; they train the recruits and the officers. The hallmark of the volunteer army and its high level of competence is the NCO. All that experience and skill that's lost every time another Staff Sergeant or Lance Corporal is killed starts to add up after a while. Just look at the pathetic state of the Russian army, which uses "grandfathers," or soldiers with two years in the army, to enforce discipline on the new recruits by beating and hazing them. We can't get to the point where the ones training new recruits are just slightly less trained than they are.
Discipline and unit cohesion is what makes an army an army. When young soldiers are going off on their own without orders and killing civilians, especially in an insurgency war like Iraq, where such atrocities can be used by the insurgents to gain support from the local population, it's a sign something is going terribly wrong. Of course, it doesn't help that the Commander-in-Chief, who managed to avoid military service when his country needed him, regularly rewards incompetence and condones the punishment of the lowers ranks while those in command get off scott-free. As long as Rummy, the man most responsible for this mess in Iraq, gets to keep his job and continues to run the military, I don't see things getting any better over there.
I feel really sorry for those poor bastards in Iraq that somehow have to manage to fight day in and day out in the middle of the impossible situation they've been put into by the likes of Rummy and his compliant generals. The most solemn duty a general has is to ensure the safety of those he commands. This batch of lackeys, Tommy Franks chief among them, who remained silent while Rummy violated every hard learned lesson of the Vietnam war, should be prosecuted, not rewarded. Every rule guiding the uses of a post-Vietnam volunteer army was broken by Rummy and Co.:
If you're going to go to war, make sure you have the support of the public, make sure you have overwhelming force to achieve your goals and make sure you have an exit strategy. None of these rules was applied in this situation. The public has bailed, we never had enough troops and W. is hoping a future president can figure a way out, once he's safely out of office building his presidential library.
Our brave war president defends all the good work Rummy has done by saying to his critics, "Listen, every war plan looks good on paper until you meet the enemy." The problem with that is the war plan Rummy came up with didn't envision an insurgency. W. even denied that this particular "enemy" even existed until about a year after our people had started fighting them. Rummy dismissed the insurgency as a small group of Saddam regime "dead-enders" and just ten months ago Dick-shot Cheney said they were in their last throes.
The leadership of this war is seriously flawed, to the point of being dangerous, but this isn't to say the military is completely remiss in its duties to the men and women fighting the war. ATC had a piece the other day on a mock Iraqi town they've built in the Mohave Desert at Fort Irwin to work out strategies to fight the insurgency. It's quite a major undertaking and one of the only generals who actually got his stuff together, Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus, is overseeing the whole thing. This is good and we should all be happy that the people charged with defending this country are using their training and expertise to try and get things right in Iraq, despite the lack of leadership at the top.
Deborah Amos, who did the report, interviewed a general involved in this project, who had been in Iraq during the early stages of the insurgency and he gave an example of the level of denial that was going on in the military back then. He said he was talking to a Colonel about the insurgency when the Colonel stopped him in mid-sentence to tell him there was no such thing. There was only a limited violent uprising, or some such blather. The general told Amos that those using terms to describe what was going on right in front as something other than what it was, was a form of self-delusion.
When I heard that, I was thinking how apropos that was to what is going on in the halls of the pentagon and in the White House even at this late date. As much as I am heartened by the fact the some in the military are trying to get down to brass tacks and come up with a way to fight the insurgency and save American lives, all of that effort is pretty much futile as long as we've got a president who thinks we're on the verge of a glorious victory.