Monday, July 09, 2007
Iraq troop surge - motivation and frustration
One of the soldiers inside the CH-47 Chinook helicopter screamed as we take off for a nightly air assault mission south of Baghdad. The soldiers are looking to capture suspected insurgents, people they claim were involved in bombing an American patrol base close by, killing two US soldiers and wounding several others.
First Lt. Matt Sheftic is a squad leader and was in charge of the raid at one of the suspected insurgent's houses. “You know these guys are like the mafia, they don't keep stuff in their house for the most part. So we have to look real hard to find different components and what not,” Sheftic tells me, as we kneel in cover in front of the house, while the other soldiers are detaining and questioning those inside.
In a shed next to the to the main building, they find the evidence they are looking for: Ladders, pickets, and razor wire, stolen from the destroyed American patrol base only a month before. “This will be enough to put this guy away for a long time”, one soldier
tells me and adds, “this raid is already a success.”
The raid highlights some of the successes US troops have been achieving, but also some of the frustrations they still face.
Since the increase in U.S. troops levels in and around Baghdad, this unit has been freed up to conduct operations against suspected insurgents, they have been on 14 in raids just the past three weeks. The constant US interference keeps the insurgents on the move. It deprives them of the possibility to move around freely and regroup, as they can never be sure the house they are in won't be raided soon, and that makes planning and orchestrating attacks against coalition forces and against the civilian population much more difficult.
But the soldiers we talked to say they¹re not sure the gains they are making now will really last. Their work here resembles police and FBI investigations more than it does military operations. A lot of time is spent collecting evidence against the suspected insurgent commanders to try to build a case that will hold up in Iraqi courts. But very often the cases get thrown out and US soldiers see insurgents they know have planned and conducted attacks against coalition forces back on the streets only days after they were taken into custody.
The lower level commanders don't like to talk politics. They say they're not sure whether the operations they're conducting and the losses they're taking are really making a difference. One platoon commander tells me that in his area there are three groups of people: Insurgents, those that support the insurgency, and those that don¹t support the insurgency but are so afraid that they look away and refuse to work with or even talk to coalition forces. “How do you deal with that, how many operations does it take to weed them out,” one commander asks and adds that he believes it could take many years to make a difference in Iraq.
Do the US forces have that much time?
No soldier I talked to would comment on that. Most say it's up to politics and the American people to decide which way to go - the troops are just here to do their job.
-- From Frederik Pleitgen CNN International Correspondent.
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