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U.S. Troops Questioning Iraqi Mission

By Jay Shaft
Jan. 31, 2004

U.S. Military
Two US Soldiers ask: "When will we stop dying so senselessly?"
Jay Shaft Interviews Two U.S. Soldiers

Over the Christmas holidays I managed to find two US soldiers who were back from Iraq. They were both somewhat willing to be interviewed and describe their time in Iraq in their own words. One was imminently returning to Iraq within a few days and the other was home for an unknown length of time. Both knew at some point they would be returning to a bloody guerilla conflict, and they did not know if they would be coming back.

The holidays for them were overshadowed by the somber nature of seeing the news reports of troop deaths on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. During their festive times they always had the specter of Iraq looming at the back of their minds like a ghost of Christmas past. I was really amazed that they were able to forget about the war and just enjoy being with their families, even if only for a short time.

You could see the strain in their faces, and an almost haunted look in their eyes. They were doing their best to put aside all the bloodshed and horror they had recently seen, and get into the holiday spirit that the whole country was enjoying.

Thoughts of all the troops they had left behind were weighing heavy on their minds. Neither one knew the other before coming back on leave. They had met in the airport and realized they were both returning to the same hometown for leave. On the trip home they got to talking, and shared their experiences as officers leading combat troops on patrols and into battles.

I talked to one of the men first and conducted an initial interview with him. He mentioned that he knew of another officer in the area who had come home for leave who might also speak out about Iraq. I knew I had to get them both to describe their experiences as officers in charge of combat units. I have interviewed many enlisted men and gotten their eyewitness accounts of Iraq, but had not been able to get any officers to talk to me.

I will present the interviews as they occurred, in the men s own voices as they requested. I wanted to give them the opportunity to speak directly to the American people and the world. I have changed as little of the actual interviews as possible. I have left out some personal details, and any unit details, which might be used to identify these soldiers. I am dedicated to protecting them from military reprisals and harassment, and I have taken every precaution to keep their identity hidden.

I will refer to them as O1 and O2.

JS- When did you deploy to Iraq?

O1- I went with a unit from Afghanistan to Iraq. We got there a good little bit before the official war started. Believe me when I tell you that there were some units already across the border doing scouting and intelligence gathering and other missions like bomb targeting and artillery plotting.

O2- About a month before the war started. I don t want to get to specific on that date. They are going to be looking for any small way to track me down.

JS- Okay, before we go any farther, I want to get into the details behind breaching the Iraq border before the war officially started. If the US did break the border that is a violation of the Geneva Convention and a whole list of international treaty declarations and charters. It violates the UN charter and goes contrary to NATO treaties and declarations also.

There had been a group of international peacekeepers and many humanitarian organizations that maintained that the US illegally invaded Iraq weeks or even months before the actual war was started. The US has denied any of these accusations, but I have heard from several US soldiers who say that the border was breached for weeks before the invasion. Was it? And if it was, how extensively?

O1- I really didn t want to get into this one. I know that there were at least 100 or more special ops and CIA types in Iraq in the months leading up to the war. This is pretty open knowledge among many officers and higher level NCOs. In the weeks right before the ground invasion there were various Spec Ops and Intel guys in Iraq doing target location and plotting, working with the Kurds in Northern Iraq, trying to find Iraqis to fight on our side, and gathering intelligence on where the WMDs might be located.

O2- I don t know anyone who went in early, but I know guys who talked to some spooks who said they had been right in downtown Baghdad about a month before the ground assault. I can t verify that with any hard facts, but it was pretty openly known. We completely ignored some of the same international conventions that we said Iraq violated in 1990 when they invaded Kuwait. I find it very disturbing that we went to war over that in 1991, but then broke a whole bunch of the UN charters when we invaded Iraq.

O1- Let s get off this one, I wanted to talk about other things that have been bothering me. The border thing is done long ago; my guys are still dying today.

JS- Okay, let s move on to the recent casualties. While you were talking to me yesterday you mentioned opening up Christmas presents and seeing the news reports about the deaths on Christmas Eve. How hard is it to be home and know your fellow troops are still dying and getting maimed?

O1- I can t stop feeling like I shouldn t be back home. I left a whole lot of my men over there, and a few have been killed while I was home. That really makes you feel like sh.t, and you want to be there to get some payback or something. I wasn t even able to eat Christmas dinner because I lost my appetite after seeing the news. I came back home but many of my men will not be coming back, and some will be coming back horribly scarred and injured. Makes you really think about what Christmas means and to value being with your family.

O2- I started crying in front of my whole family and all my friends when I saw that come on the news. I won t let my wife turn on the news right now. I am going back in a few days and I want to just relax and forget the war for a few days. I don t think I can put it out of my head, but I am trying. I knew one of the guys killed on Christmas Eve, and some of the guys that got wounded in the last week were my friends. I hate being here and feeling helpless to do anything. I want to be there trying to lead my men safely on patrol, and make sure they can come home to see their families again.

JS- I m sorry if talking to me is making you think about all that stuff while you are trying to rest and be with your family.

O2- I want to talk about this and tell people how bad it really is in Iraq. It is a complete slaughter and it is only going to get worse. The attacks in the last month or so have been meticulously well planned and executed. We are seeing a level of sophistication that the chain of command did not ever expect. Many of the officers knew that they were going to be dealing with well trained Iraqi army and militia units. There might or might not be outside support and insurgents, but I know the Iraqis are more than capable of messing up your day. These guys have been trained to fight guerilla style and they don t give up. We are in deep sh.t now that they have started to get more organized.

O1- I don t think that some of the higher level planners expected this kind of resistance and guerilla activity. We tried to tell them months ago that it wasn t just Ba ath party members and Saddam supporters. Some of the most highly trained guerillas are Shiite and Kurdish. We are going to be in some real trouble if the Kurds ever decide to join together with the Shiites and fight against us. Throw the Sunni radicals into the mix and it s total chaos with our guys stuck smack in the middle. It s one giant cluster f..k and the US soldiers are going to be the one that gets hurt and killed. That country is on the brink of civil war right now. Years of subdued hatreds are now boiling over. That is why you see all the different targets that are being hit by the car bombs.

O2- Yeah, we are in a real meat grinder right now. The real danger is that the whole country will erupt in civil unrest and the US troops will be caught between many different rival factions. I don t look forward to going back there, but I don t have a choice.

O1- You know, right after the invasion, the average Iraqi was happy to see us get rid of the Saddam regime. You ask the same Iraqi how they feel about us now, and they will openly admit that they hate us as bad as Saddam, or even worse than Saddam.

JS- Why is that in your opinion? What made them change their feelings toward US forces?

O1- You want to know the biggest reason? We still haven t accomplished the mission we started out to do. Iraqis will tell you they don t fell any freer, there is hunger all over the place, over half the country is out of work, there is a huge lack of clean drinking water, and their children are dying everyday from contaminated water, and from our cluster bombs. The people do not see us living up to our promises of liberation and democracy. Until we do what we promised them and get out of there, they will keep killing us and hating us. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Every American needs to ask themselves what they would do in the same situation. I guarantee you that they would not sit back and do nothing. They would want to fight back in whatever way possible.

O2- Good point! I get really mad when they kill or injure one of my men, but I have to examine why the attacks are happening. I am there to lead and protect my men, and that means I have to be aware of what is causing the attacks and what would stop them. I have asked many Iraqis what it will take to get the attacks to stop. They all tell me that the US needs to do what they said they would do, and leave them to run their own country. The majority of Iraqis believed that the US would come in, get rid of Saddam, and then go right back home. You and I both know that is not going to happen anytime soon. We are going to be there for at least another year or more in a very large force. There is no way that Bush and his cronies are going to give up all that oil and contracting dollars.

O1- Every day that we stay in Iraq, the resistance builds, and the attacks are bigger and more prevalent. We are going to see many more US soldiers die because of the failure of the US to live up to their basic promises. In the end it is the basic line grunt that is the victim of the Bush regimes drive for oil and profits. You won t see one of the senator s kids over there. You will not see one of the board members of Halliburton, Bechtel, KBR, or the other big contractors losing a son or daughter. All they are going to do is make money and send more troops to guard their convoys and assets.

We can t even go out in convoy with anyone from Halliburton or Bechtel without drawing a crowd of angry Iraqis. They hate the Halliburton and Bechtel guys worse than they hate the soldiers. It s like painting a target on your back just to travel with those contractors and try to protect them.

O2- Let me jump in here. I want to say that I am extremely mad that Halliburton and Bechtel have better equipment than our own troops do. The contractors have fully armored Hummers and the best body armor. The have us escort them in our lightly armored Humvees and they ride in heavily armored vehicles. That is bullsh.t and every American needs to know about it. It s been in the paper recently about how bad the casualties have been from the older Hummers. Our vehicles don t provide adequate protection, and that is a outrage that needs to be fixed.

O1- I was getting to that, and it is a big problem. I think about 80 percent of my unit casualties were coming from the Humvee crews. Do you know that bullets go through an older hummer like it s made of paper? Most of the hummers have canvas tops and plastic windows. If an IED (improvised explosive device) hits you from the side, you are going to get hurt or killed if you are in an older, lightly armored hummer. The recent increase in the amount of roadside bombs has been decimating my men. Almost all my recent KIAs (killed in action) and WIAs (wounded in action) were riding in a hummer. I was there when the CNN guys riding in the hummer were injured. The attacker just chucked the grenade right through the top of the vehicle. Most of the hummers are not designed for heavy combat ops.

O2- I would say that at least half of my WIAs and KIAs were in a hummer when it got hit. I think that in the last few weeks before I left, the average was more like 70-80 percent. It was something I have begged my higher ups to take care of. I have not seen a significant response to the problem yet. Man, they sent us to war in what is basically an aluminum can with a canvas topper. How messed up is that? But of course Halliburton and the other private contractors have the best and newest vehicles and body armor.

O1- I saw some Saudi police or militia, I don t know which, that were brought in by Kellog Brown and Root to provide security for the oil fields. Those fu..ers had the body armor our own forces were supposed to get. Bechtel got a whole bunch of body armor given to them for the police force they are training. Our own Reservists and National Guard are using Gulf War era equipment and some supplies are even older than that. They are getting wiped out and needlessly wounded because they don t have the proper body armor and vehicles.

The contractors seem to be able to keep their security forces supplied with the newest and best gear. Some of the oil field security had brand new Humvees and other equipment the reserve units would kill for. There were a lot of the reservists lost because they didn t get sent over with the right flak jacket. Let America think about that one for a while.

Every American should demand a congressional injury about why our troops were not equipped with the proper equipment to save their lives. I know of at least 50 men that were killed because they did not have the newer body armor, and some didn t have any body armor at all. How the hell can the Pentagon justify sending a man into battle without body armor? That is like driving down the freeway at 100 without a windshield or doors.

JS- So beyond a shadow of a doubt, there were some of our troops that died because they just didn t have the right body armor or a properly armored Humvee? They actually sent units over with inadequate equipment or no equipment at all?

O1- Yes, absolutely without a doubt! In my mind there can be no mistake about it. Some of our soldiers, a large percentage even, died needlessly or were permanently disabled because there was improper or missing equipment.

O2- Are you kidding me? You are actually asking me if there is any doubt about it? I saw it with my own eyes and lost men because of it. I didn t have to know it was happening to another unit. That fact that it was happening to my men told me that. Some of the chemical protection suits were completely useless, and our vehicles were absolute pieces of shit. We were driving one hummer as a command unit and it had three bullet holes in one side. We reinforced the doors with whatever heavy scrap metal we could find. We were scavenging for sheet metal ourselves and competing with the Iraqis to see who could find the heavy gauge steel and aluminum first.

Yeah, they knew some of our units didn t have any of the proper equipment. How the hell could they not know, we told them enough and some of us wrote to Colonel David Hackworth about it. I know one guy in my unit who wrote one of the letters Hack put up back in October.

O1- So I guess you got the answer you were looking for right? At least make sure everyone finds out about this. I would hate to say all this stuff and then you don t do anything with it. I read the articles you wrote back in October. I thought they were bullsh.t at first, but I met a guy you talked to. I didn t think I would ever give an interview like this. A lot can change in a few months time.

Now I am just about done with the Army s bullsh.t and the Pentagon is about worthless as sh.t. It is going against everything the Army has ever told me. I am just sick of seeing good men and women die. In the end is it going to really mean anything that all these Americans shed their blood in the sand? I don t think most of America really knows how bad it is. We getting our asses kicked and no one is winning this thing.

O2- If you look at it really hard, the only ones that come out ahead are Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of those corrupt old bastards. I mean come on, if all the soldiers who are actually fighting this war can see that, what the hell is wrong with the American citizens? We knew it was about oil from the beginning. Oil and building huge bases that the US will have to staff for years to come. There is no end in sight for the people serving in this war. How about us, don t we have a say in this?

JS- Let me ask you how you feel about serving in Iraq and being involved in the war.

O2- I m proud that I served my country, I am proud to be an American soldier. That is why it is so hard for me to say stuff like this about our leaders and the government. I hate doing this, but what the Pentagon and Bush are doing to our soldiers makes me sick. I also get sick when I think about how many Iraqi civilians I saw killed and terribly maimed. I have seen hundreds of kids missing body parts or dying from dysentery and diarrhea from contaminated water. I saw orphans who had lost every family member and were starving in the street.

There are whole packs of orphans roaming around Baghdad and some of the other cities. They scavenge for scraps and beg for food. It got really bad after the Red Cross and the UN pulled out. Seeing hundreds and hundreds of maimed and starving children is one sight you will never forget. I can t sleep sometimes, and I hear the kids crying in my nightmares. I saw little kids with injuries like I never dreamed possible.

I was near a hospital for a few weeks after the ground war ended. I saw hundreds of dead kids, and kids dying from gangrene and infection. If you ever smell someone who has severe gangrene and flesh rotting you would know what I was talking about. That is one smell you will never forget. To see a little child with their arm or leg rotting off is one of the most gruesome sights I could have imagined.

I never was prepared for anything like I experienced in Iraq. There is no way in hell that the Army can train you to be able to handle something like that. No amount of practice can even come close to the reality I found in Iraq. There just wasn t anything to prepare any of us who had never been in that kind of combat environment. I thought I had seen some really nasty sh.t in Bosnia and then in Kosovo. Boy was I ever wrong about that being as bad as it could get. I feel sorry for the newer guys who hadn t ever seen any combat, or ever shot at a real person.

Coming under fire was another thing that fu..ed up some of my guys who had never seen any action before. Some of them just froze and got shot because they just didn't have the proper training to react the right way.

I must have seen at least five hundred dead bodies, and those were just the ones you could see in plain sight. We could smell the ones that hadn t been found in the rubble, and there were bodies in some of the canals rotting for days or weeks. Some of those canals were downright ugly looking, and the smell was incredibly foul.

O1- I will never be ashamed of being in the Army or going to Iraq. I do hate some of the things that we had to do to stay alive, and sometimes it wasn t in any training manual or class you could take. I thought I knew what it would be like, and had some ideas about what I would do in certain circumstances. I had so many situations that we just are not trained to handle.

I was not prepared to have to be a police officer or a peacekeeper. I heard that over and over again from my men. They simply didn t know how to be in a police force capacity or know much about doing the urban peacekeeping patrols and standing checkpoint duty. I thought it was a joke when they kept referring to us as a peacekeeping force.

There is no way we were able to act effectively to keep the peace. It was all we could do to keep the patrol areas contained long enough to bring in enough reinforcements to get us out of trouble. We got shot at from rooftops, windows, and fields as we went by. Basically they attacked us from anyplace they could get off a shot or two.

I know that seeing the kids dead and injured was one of the worst things for me too. There just wasn t a damn thing you could really do. We didn t have a lot of food to spread around, and it was extremely hard for us to get clean water.

The madness and chaos that hit the whole country was completely overwhelming. I know a lot of my guys will come home with PTSD or worse. We had a lot of guys flown out for going off the deep end. You could just see it in their yes. They were right at the breaking point or already over the edge. I heard about million mile stares, and now I really know what they are talking about.

I am about done with this if you got what you need. You won t get me to say much else. I just wanted to get some of this stuff on record. I think that enough people will believe it that it might make some kind of difference. I just hope the people stop letting us die so senselessly. Let us get the job done and get the hell out.

I don t want to have to write another letter to parents or a wife ever again. I know that I will have to do way too much over the next couple months, or however long we are really over there. I just don t want to have to tell another mother that her son or daughter is dead or crippled for life.

Well so far we got rid of Saddam and the rest of his henchmen, and the attacks on our troops still keep happening. I don t see the insurgents or resistance backing down anytime soon. They are only going to fight harder the longer we stay.

What I want to say as my final statement to America is "Stop letting your proud men and women die so senselessly. If we are going to die for our country let it be for something we can really be proud of. I just don t see us making the US any safer from terrorists because of what we are doing in Iraq. Bring us back home so we can defend the US from real threats to our shores."

O2- Yeah, I pretty much agree with that. I am proud to serve my country and even die for it. I know the risks of putting on the uniform and accepting command. But damn it, if we are going to die, make it for something that really is helping to defend the US. I agree that we are dying senselessly for an idea of democracy in Iraq that the US government will never really let happen. I just want to be able to look back on my service with total pride and that is not really what I feel right now. I hate the ones in power that have made me question my sense of duty and honor. I get so confused about it and there is no one you can really talk to about that.

Don t let me have to ship anyone else s body back home. I don t want to get shipped back in a box either. I have a family and I don plan on being in the Army forever. I want to have my mind intact, and not wake up with nightmares about dead kids.

JS- One final question if you will permit it. The Pentagon has said that one in five soldiers will come back with PTSD, or some form of battle trauma. Is that about right or do you think there are going to be many more than that who are permanently affected by this war?

O1- I think it is probably affecting at least half the men over there. It s probably way more than that out of the ones in combat situations everyday. They have had to evacuate at least 5000 soldiers for mental reasons already. Who knows how many are having problems and are afraid to tell anyone. I know that I will never be the same again. I have nightmares and can t sleep very well. I know I won t ever forget some of the things I saw, there is no way you can ever wipe out the sight of dead kids and women, or seeing your men get slaughtered.

O2- Of course there are more soldiers with PTSD and mental problems than the military will ever admit too. Look how long it took for some of the Vietnam vets to get counseling and help for their mental problems. I do think it is affecting about half the troops in Iraq. It has to be affecting at least that many soldiers with as much combat as we have seen. I don t think I got that many problems with it, but I haven t had time to really stop and try to see how bad it has affected me. It had to affect me at least a little bit. I wouldn t be human if it hadn t scarred me a little. I feel sorry for the guys who don t feel anything at all. I hope this war never makes me stop feeling emotions like I did when I saw all those terrible things.

JS- I don t think you could have said it any plainer. Anything else you want to say?

O1- No, I think I said way too much if I know what s good for me. That is one thing that I am really upset about. I go off to fight for democracy and freedom in Iraq, and I am scared to have my name on this interview when I get back home to this supposed democracy. That just pisses me off that I am afraid to speak out in my own country. How the hell are we supposed to bring democracy to Iraq when the government is going after all the soldiers that have been speaking out?

O2- You have to have been out of the country for a few months to notice it. I almost felt like I was coming home to a police state or something. They were screening everyone at the airport and pulled aside some elderly guy who was a prominent anti-war activist. I didn t catch his name but a few people at the airport said he was a Christian peace missionary who had been over in Iraq during the bombing campaign.

What are we coming to when we harass old men who have the courage to challenge our notions of war? That was like a slap in the face to me when I saw how rude and nasty they were to this kind looking old man. He had the courage to stand up for what he believed in and that is why I am in the military. I took an oath to defend our liberties and to see them trampled on was insulting.

O1- I saw them screening several people when I came through, and it just pissed me off. These were very peaceful looking people and I heard one of them asking the security screeners what crime they had committed. He said all he had done was question the war and the facts behind it. One of the security goons said something like "You should have thought about that before you had the nerve to question the US. We don t like unpatriotic people in this country."

We are supposed to be fighting the war on terror against the terrorists, not the people who should have the right to stand against war if they want to. I hope that the country can see how dangerous it is getting to speak out against this current administration. I don t really think the war protesters are right on most of their issues, but I would fight to the death for their right and freedom to say it. I know a lot of guys who have had their family protest the war. What s gonna happen when they start arresting the soldiers families, or stop them from flying on a plane?

O2- I know that some of my family has spoken out against the war. If they were to try and arrest my mom or dad they would have a real fight on their hands. I don t think the government realizes how volatile something like that would be. How ironic it would be if I go back to Iraq to help them get a freely elected democracy, and they put my family in jail for trying to protect our own democracy? We are in real critical times right now. I don t think many of the military or their families actually support this war. I don t know of any other time of war when so many people with military family have spoken out in opposition of a war.

Some of the men in my unit have family members that go to all the protests, and are very active with anti war groups. Imagine if the FBI were to just start arresting all those people. That is a very real possibility if you look at the lengths the FBI and Homeland Security has gone to keep track of protestors and activists.

O1- I want to say one more thing to all the American people. I guess I just can t figure out when to shut my mouth.

WAKE UP! This war has become bogus if it ever had any legitimacy at all, and it is only when you speak out that you will hold our leaders accountable. Don t forget what this country was founded on. God Bless America! I hope that everyone listens to what I had to say. Don t just push my words off and go on about your daily routine. Ask yourself what could have been so bad that I would speak out like this. Ask yourself how bad it must be when I am willing to put my career on the line to speak out.

O2- Yeah, that about says it for me too. Just think about what could have possibly made me go out on a limb and do this interview. I am not ready to go back to Iraq and die, but I don t have much choice. I just want everyone who supports this war to think about this, and realize that it must be one hell of a mess to get us to say all this. I never would have thought I would be doing this type of interview. I would have laughed in your face a year ago if you told me it would happen.

JS- Thanks for your time and for having the courage to speak out. This will make a difference to the soldiers in Iraq and to all the families who are supporting them. You really are true heroes. I wish you and all the rest of our troops continued safety and that you come home as soon as possible.

Jay Shaft


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