Nearly a month ago, seven active-duty U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times titled, “The War as We Saw It.” Their conclusions were starkly different from those we’ve heard this week.
Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political, and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the ”battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.
This morning’s Times brought the news that two of the authors of the piece were killed this week. Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray and Sgt. Omar Mora, along with six other soldiers and two detainees, died in a truck accident in Baghdad.
The op-ed piece ended by saying, “We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.” Staff Sgt. Gray and Sgt. Mora have seen their mission through. Our prayers are with their families.
Duane Shank is senior policy adviser for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.