Thursday, October 28, 2004

A completely unverified soldier's tale -- as related to an airline passenger

The Washington Note Archives

Excerpts here, emphases mine. Read the whole story at source.
I JUST SAT NEXT TO A VERY TOUGH SOLDIER FROM THE 82ND AIRBORNE on a flight back from Europe. I have been thinking for two days about how to share some of the things he told me without compromising him.

This guy I met is not one prone to talk; he was very serious, very mellow -- and comes from a family of enlisted military men. His dad was in Vietnam.

He has had one rotation in Afghanistan, one in Iraq. He is now in Germany but will soon be transfered back to Iraq. He was at Tora Bora and has seen a lot of Iraq, Afghan, and American dead....

...I asked him what he thought happened at Abu Ghraib and the handling of prisoners in general. He blamed both the people in the prison and their superiors. He says that everyone knows that the adrenaline rush and completely new experiences these young Americans are having lead to scary behaviors. He also stated that it is well known among the troops that al Qaeda takes (or keeps) no prisoners.

Early in the Afghanistan incursion, he said that he was on one of the last helicopters out of a very scary incident in which about ten U.S. soldiers were killed in a well-planned diversion and ambush by al Qaeda and the Taliban. He was at a fueling station between Kandahar and Shkin, very close to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. A group began firing on U.S. soldiers at the fueling station, and some choppers and soldiers went after them. From behind, from the mountains on the Pakistani side, a massive number of al Qaeda and Taliban forces were streaming down behind the Americans -- and the soldier I was talking to could see this from the air in the chopper he was in.

Black Hawks were called in -- and the Taliban took out one or two -- but basically everyone just retreated. According to him at least ten soldiers surrendered to al Qaeda, and they were found later. One of the soldiers had had his penis castrated, and then this was stuffed in his mouth (sorry for the graphic detail, but it's important). The other soldiers were all shot in the head. Several others were "cut up," he said. To him, it was clear that they had been tortured.

He said that these experiences have been repeated in other encounters with al Qaeda -- and thus many of the soldiers who feel on the front lines of a war they don't understand and can't figure out -- have them so incredibly on edge that it's not surprising that they could come undone in a prisoner-holding situation. What he said though is that all of the officers know this to be the case and probably expected this kind of behavior from the soldiers and MPs.

He said that at night, when they are moving people or supplies, or making deliveries, they are scared -- and drive at 80 or 90 miles an hour with their lights off. He said lots of innocent people are killed by this night-driving and while the troops are supposed to report any damage or harm they do, almost none do -- no one wants to stop. This confirms an anecdote about the same kind of killer-driving that Seymour Hersh recently shared with me.

Interestingly, he said that all enlisted men or officers in command positions have orders not to talk about their war experiences with the junior and fresh troops. He refuses -- and tells those people under him everything he knows because he thinks it will help save their lives. When he went to Afghanistan at the beginning, basically nothing was told to them; he kept repeating "nothing." And he said that their basic training in North Carolina was 180 degrees opposite of what they really needed to know for this kind of combat.

He said morale is very low among the troops and that they all want out -- few believe in the war or Bush, and he thinks that many of these troops' negative feelings are being transmitted back to extended family networks that have traditionally been supporters of the Republican Party, like his own family.

He shared quite a bit more, including that his military commanders are planning for at minimum an eight year deployment in Iraq, maybe longer. He also shared an interesting anecdoted that about a year ago, certain commanders in the 82nd Airborne had been told to prepare for a quick incursion into Cuba. I was stunned.

He said, "Yep, we couldn't believe that on top of everything else, Bush thought he could go take out Castro." The Navy Seals were going to go in and do the dirty work, he said, and the "82nd was going to go in for clean-up." He said that he never heard more about it but that the orders clearly didn't go forward -- but they were prepared for that possibility and told that "Bush just wanted to take out Castro."

Another thing he shared was that after this incident at Shkin, mentioned above, the Navy Seals were sent in to go find the al Qaeda and Taliban troops hiding in the Pakistan mountains. He said that they were all through those mountains in Pakistan and what he told me was probably classified. But they found nothing, packed their bags, and went home.

... He said that in contrast to Vietnam where U.S. soldiers were killing other U.S. soldiers and officers whom they didn't like -- that is not happening in Afghanistan or Iraq. But he said people are getting depressed and disillusioned. They don't know what their objectives are -- and they see lots of dead children, dead innocent men and women, grieving families, whose early appreciation for Americans has given away to profound hate and resentment.

He said that if he were one of the Iraqi citizens experiencing what an occupying force was doing, he'd be fighting too. He said that the only way to win is to get out of there -- let the Iraqis resolve the issues they need to resolve internally. Give them money, give them resources, give them advice if asked -- but get the U.S. troops out.

This is completely unverified, but it contains absolutely no surprises -- except the oddball Cuba scenario (exception: the alleged treatment of captured US soldiers has not been widely reported -- however it is consistent with al Qaeda ideology and behavior). It puts into one personal scenario what's been reported and verified elsewhere.

It's noteworthy that US soldiers are holding up pretty well under incredible burdens -- fragging is not yet occurring and massacres of non-combatants does not appear to be common. However these are early days in a projected 8 year occupation.

Cut, run and contain may be among the least bad of a terrible set of alternatives. If this were a just world Rumsfeld and Bush would be drafted into the infantry. Perhaps Bush might complete his missing term in the National Guard?

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