Two armies

Three stories from Iraq, when put together, suggest some of the causes and consequences of the impending retreat. The first two are about how the British Army, as an institution, seems to have turned against the war. It’s remarkable that an elite soldier with eight years’ service ["decides to leave the war;":] but what is astonishing about Trooper Ben Griffin’s decision is that he was not court martialled, but given an honourable discharge with a glowing reference. The reason for this treatment is to be sought in his argument for what is essentially desertion – that the war is immoral and the American army’s behaviour illegal.

Trooper Griffin is not a coward: he’s a former paratrooper, now an SAS soldier who has served in Bosnia, Montenegro and Afghanistan. But he is remarkably anti-American. "I did not join the Army to conduct American foreign policy" he told the _Sunday Telegraph:_

bq. Mr Griffin, 28, who spent two years with the SAS, said the American military’s "gung-ho and trigger happy mentality" and tactics had completely undermined any chance of winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi population.

The fact that this story first appeared in the _Telegraph,_ the army’s paper, suggests an astonishing degree of institutional unhappiness with the war. The second glimpse into the Army’ attitude comes from a book being plugged by the _Guardian_ today. A senior British diplomat, reporting from Baghdad in the aftermath of the invasion, wrote:

bq. A big part of the problem is the US Third Infantry Division. They fought a magnificent war and now just want to go home. Unlike more mobile US units they are sticking to their heavy vehicles and are not inclined to learn new techniques. Our Paras company at the embassy witnessed a US tank respond to (harmless) Kalashnikov fire into the air from a block of residential flats by firing three tank rounds into the building. Stories are numerous of US troops sitting on tanks parked in front of public buildings while looters go about their business behind them. Every civilian who approaches a US checkpoint is treated as a potential suicide bomber. Frankly, the 3rd Inf Div need to go home.

At the time, this adviser suggested sending British troops to Baghdad to help out; Downing Street rejected the plan. By the late summer they were being warned by the most senior British soldier with the American forces that "strategic failure is a possibility". Now the army is pulling 800 men out of Iraq on the pretext that there enough Iraqi policemen to replace them. Strategic failure seems inevitable if not already accomplished.

Compare and contrast "a long, gung-ho piece(may be paywalled)": in the latest _Atlantic_ by Robert Kaplan who has been with American troops near Mosul. He seems to have found one brigade that does its job properly, and is making some difference, with a mixture of force and intelligent politics. But the money has run out.

bq. "Where is the investment money, now that our area has been safe for months?" The American soldiers had no answer. They were as frustrated as the Iraqis. Even the safe areas showed no sign of civilian relief work or major rebuilding other than what I had seen en route. The soldiers admitted that while they had the money to lay gravel on a particular road, they lacked the funds to pave it, even though all agreed that graveled roads offered easy concealment for IEDs.
It was surreal. The stability of Iraq will likely determine history’s judgment on President George W. Bush. And yet even in a newly secured area like this one, the administration has provided little money for the one factor essential to that stability: jobs. On a landscape flattened by anarchy in 2004, the American military has constructed a house of cards. Fortifying this fragile structure with wood and cement now will require more aid—in massive amounts, and of a type that even America’s increasingly civil affairs–oriented military cannot provide. This house of cards, flimsy as it is, constitutes a substantial achievement. But because Washington’s deeds do not match its rhetoric, even this fragile achievement might go for naught.

p. Nothing in the bureaucracy works, and the army as a whole seems unbelievably pampered and idle.

bq. Back in Mosul, I had lunch in the massive chow hall with Captain Brad Velotta of Alexandria, Louisiana. We figured that with all the support troops and private contractors who kept this base running, its total population was roughly 3,000. Out of this group, on any given day, no more than about 200 troops and civilian operatives ventured into Mosul. The visible results of all this support were amenities like heating and the Internet—plus crab, lobster, steak, and ice cream in the chow hall. Velotta, the commander of one of the battalion’s three rifle companies, took no satisfaction from that. His whole purpose in Iraq was to be constantly away from his FOB, "outside the wire" and among Iraqis. He spoke about the Marine detachments sent to fight near the Syrian border. They slept in the dirt, and their force protection consisted of just themselves, fanning out into a 360-degree formation at night. "Zero support tail," in other words. No ice cream. No Internet.
The need for crab, lobster, steak, and ice cream—the comforts of home—was part of an occupation mentality, as seen in West Germany during the Cold War. But the situation in Iraq, Velotta said, required a fighting mentality. Sparer bases would mean more people outside the perimeter, because the very comforts inside the base subtly reduce a commander’s incentive to take troops outside for too long. There was an undeniable contradiction between the high living standard the Army felt it had to provide for the sake of soldiers’ morale and the new warrior ethos it was trying to promote.

The stuff in Kaplan’s article abut how his brigade pacified Mosul is genuinely impressive. There seems to be, as in all armies in wartime, a growth in efficiency from the bottom upwards. Even some of the technology is proving useful, with captains able to email each other with hints and tips. The soldiers he writes about are brave, resourceful and energetic. But the army as a whole is not, and no one would describe the Administration that way.

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