Thursday, May 28, 2009

Iraqis Want Us Out of Their Cities by July

As I have said in prior posts, the Iraqi people will never accept the long-term presence of foreign soldiers. Those of us who came to know them during this war learned that they still remember the Crusades and the British occupation of Arabia. It doesn't matter that we want to "democratize" them; they want to determine their own destiny.

It is, after all, their country.

The following article from the Associated Press discusses the Iraqi desire that we remove our troops from their cities as per the existing agreement:

* * * *

Iraq Wants GIs Out of Cities by July

April 28, 2009
Associated Press

BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi government cast doubt Monday on the possibility that American troops will remain in urban trouble spots like Mosul after the June 30 deadline for U.S. forces to withdraw from cities.

An uptick of violence in recent weeks has prompted concern about whether Iraqi forces are prepared to take over responsibility for security. U.S. commanders have pointed to Mosul and areas in the volatile province of Diyala north of the capital as possible exceptions to the withdrawal plans.

The Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, however, said U.S. troops must leave by the agreed deadline and could return only with permission from the Iraqi government.

"The general position of the Iraq Defense Ministry is to keep the timings in the withdrawal pact that American troops withdraw from Iraqi cities and not enter the cities unless they get Iraqi approval," al-Askari said.

U.S. and Iraqi commanders will make recommendations to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who will decide whether to grant exceptions to the U.S.-Iraqi security pact that set the deadline.

Sunni insurgents remain active in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, and Diyala province south of Mosul despite numerous U.S.-Iraqi military operations. The U.S. military has called Mosul the last urban stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq.

The main U.S. base in Mosul is effectively on the outskirts of the city, raising the question of whether it could be considered outside the city limits as is the case with Camp Victory, which houses the main American military headquarters on the western edge of Baghdad.

Al-Askari said Mosul has adequate security, saying two Iraqi army divisions are guarding the city.

"If we need the support of American troops, we will recall them with Iraqi governmental approval," he said.

The security agreement, which took effect Jan. 1, requires American troops to leave the country entirely by the end of 2011. President Barack Obama has announced plans to withdraw combat troops by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving 30,000 to 50,000 personnel in advisory and training roles.

Violence in Iraq remains at some of the lowest levels since the months following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But Baghdad and other cities have seen a series of deadly suicide bombings in recent weeks.

Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has not specifically said whether U.S. troops would leave by the deadline, but said that any exception would have to be made by al-Maliki.

The security agreement faced its first major test Sunday when U.S. troops staged a pre-dawn raid in the southern Shiite city of Kut that ended with two people killed and six detained.

Al-Maliki called the raid a "crime" and a "violation of the security pact."
The U.S. military released the six detainees and sent a commander to apologize in a bid to tone down the dispute.

But one of the men who had been detained demanded justice Monday. Sheik Ahmed Abdul-Munim said his wife and his brother had been killed and he could not accept the U.S. apology.

"We want to prosecute the soldiers who killed our loved ones," he said.

He said American troops questioned him and five other male relatives about suspects, then put hoods over their heads and took them elsewhere for further interrogation. He said the investigator was polite and offered breakfast, then released the six after learning the soldiers apparently went to the wrong house.

* * * *

We gave them their democratic government, so we should respect their wishes.

Charles M. Grist

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thoughts for Memorial Day 2009

I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith.

Timothy 2:4:7

I remember the 18-year-old kid from Tennessee who let me use his transistor radio, the baby-faced private from North Carolina with the big grin, the two sergeants and one staff sergeant who were killed on the same day. There are others whose names, God forgive me, I cannot recall. All of their names are on the Vietnam wall because they gave their lives for their country.

I also remember one particular lieutenant.

Late in 1970, after several months as an infantry platoon leader, I got sick as a dog one morning after we returned to the firebase. At first the medics thought it was malaria, but it was just some other jungle virus, and I was laid up in the rear area for about a month. Unfortunately, another lieutenant was sent to take over my platoon.

When I recovered, I asked the battalion commander to re-assign me to another platoon, and he said he would let me fill the next platoon leader vacancy. When the lieutenant for the second platoon of Bravo Company rotated back to the States, I politely reminded the battalion commander of his promise.

He was nice about it, but he said he was sending another lieutenant to take over that platoon. I got to know the other officer from our chess games in a firebase bunker. He was a West Point graduate and a career officer who needed the field time, so the commander said I could have the next platoon.

Less than two weeks later, the West Pointer and his men walked up on an NVA bunker complex. Along with several other soldiers, he was killed when a North Vietnamese soldier detonated a Chinese claymore mine. If I had been in command of that platoon as originally planned, I would have been the one killed.

Years later, I stood in front of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. and stared at the engraving of the young lieutenant's name. Only a quirk of fate put his name there instead of mine.

Now there are those from Iraq and Afghanistan who don’t have their own place in Washington, D.C. yet, but whose names will one day appear on a monument for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. They have sacrificed everything in this new war on terror just because their country needed them.

From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, America’s warriors have given their lives to defend this nation from those who would enslave or kill our fellow citizens. On battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries throughout the world, we continue to lose our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers as they protect our way of life with honor and valor.

Those of us who fought in America’s wars will never forget the faces of our comrades. We will remember them when they were laughing, sharing a meal, missing their families, or lying dead in a body bag. They will always be in our hearts and souls.

We hope that, on this Memorial Day, all of you will remember them, too.

Charles M. Grist

Monday, May 18, 2009

Vietnam Vet Killed in Action in Iraq

As you all know by now, I'm a Vietnam veteran who served as a soldier in Iraq. When I learned about the following warrior's sacrifice, it was further evidence that some Americans believe their duty to defend this nation is not diminished by age. Sometimes that's a hard thing to explain to your friends and family members.

But, as the old saying goes, "If I have to explain it to you, you wouldn't understand anyway."

* * * *

60-year-old is oldest Army soldier killed in Iraq

By Amanda Lee Myers, Associated Press Writer Thu May 14, 7:28 pm ET

PHOENIX – A 60-year-old Vietnam War veteran killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq has become the oldest Army soldier to die in that conflict, the military said Thursday.

Maj. Steven Hutchison, of Scottsdale, Ariz., served in Vietnam and wanted to re-enlist immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks, but that his wife was against it, his brother said.

Richard Hutchison told The Associated Press on Thursday that when she died, "a part of him died" so he signed up in July 2007.

"He was very devoted to the service and to his country," Richard Hutchison said.

He described him as a great big brother and friend. "I didn't want him to go," he said through tears, adding that he loved his brother "so much."

The Pentagon said Steven Hutchison was killed in Iraq on Sunday. Army spokesman Lt. Col. Nathan Banks said Thursday that Hutchison was the oldest Army soldier killed in Iraq.

An Associated Press database of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that Hutchison is the oldest member of any service branch killed since the wars broke out.

Hutchison served in Afghanistan for a year before deploying to Iraq in October, heading a 12-soldier team that trained the Iraqi military, his brother said. Later, he was assigned to help secure Iraq's southern border.

Hutchinson, who grew up in California, taught psychology at two state colleges then worked at a health care corporation in Arizona before retiring and re-entering the service, his brother said.

He was part of the 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan.

* * * *

Our condolences go out to the family, friends, and fellow soldiers of Major Hutchinson.

Please remember his sacrifice, but also remember that he was a warrior volunteer who willingly put himself in harm's way to protect all Americans.

God bless him for his courage and for his ability to stand up for what is right.

Charles M. Grist

Friday, May 15, 2009

Soldiers and Cops: It’s All About Teamwork

The guy entered the bank dressed like someone on vacation. He was casual with a comfortable hat, sunglasses, and an expensive briefcase.

Then he pulled the gun, a sissy little 25 automatic.

The tellers gave him what he wanted, several thousand dollars in cold, hard cash. He ran for the door, and the bank employees called 911. They gave a very accurate description of the robber.

The police lieutenant works in an office now, but he was a great street cop. As the call went out, he drove his unmarked car into the parking lot of the bank, just as the bad guy was driving out. Since the driver-in-a-hurry matched the description exactly, the lieutenant called it out over the radio to the responding patrol vehicles.

The robber headed west, even as the lieutenant followed him. Of course, the bad guy didn’t know a cop was right behind him, so he tried to blend in with traffic. As suddenly as he committed his crime, there were multiple marked police units behind him – patrol cars, motorcycle cops – and they all turned on their emergency lights at the same time.

The bad guy with the weenie pistol was overwhelmed with fear, so he stopped his car right in the middle of traffic. In a textbook felony stop, he was handcuffed and taken into custody. No one was hurt, the money and the gun were recovered, and the incident came to a close.

This was how I spent part of my shift today with my squad, a great bunch of professional police officers. I am very proud to be part of this team.

Whether soldiers or cops, the teamwork of well-trained warriors is a thing of beauty to behold…

Charles M. Grist

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Terrorists: Beware America's Grim Reaper

You've just got to love this technology! Sent to me by an Army historian:

* * * *

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AP) The airplane is the size of a jet fighter, powered by a turboprop engine, able to fly at 300 mph and reach 50,000 feet. It is outfitted with infrared, laser and radar targeting, and with a ton and a half of guided bombs and missiles.

The Reaper is loaded, but there is no one on board. Its pilot, as it bombs targets in Iraq, will sit at a video console 7,000 miles away in Nevada.

The arrival of these outsized U.S. "hunter-killer" drones, in aviation history's first robot attack squadron, will be a watershed moment even in an Iraq that has seen too many innovative ways to hunt and kill. That moment, one the Air Force will likely low-key, is expected "soon," says the regional U.S. air commander. How soon? "We're still working that," Lt. Gen. Gary North said in an interview.

The Reaper's first combat deployment is expected in Afghanistan, and senior Air Force officers estimate it will land in Iraq sometime between this fall and next spring. They look forward to it.

"With more Reapers, I could send manned airplanes home," North said.

The Associated Press has learned that the Air Force is building a 400,000-square-foot expansion of the concrete ramp area now used for Predator drones here at Balad, the biggest U.S. air base in Iraq, 50 miles north of Baghdad. That new staging area could be turned over to Reapers.

It is another sign that the Air Force is planning for an extended stay in Iraq, supporting Iraqi government forces in any continuing conflict, even if U.S. ground troops are drawn down in the coming years.

The estimated two dozen or more unmanned MQ-1 Predators now doing surveillance over Iraq, as the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, have become mainstays of the U.S. war effort, offering round-the-clock airborne "eyes" watching over road convoys, tracking nighttime insurgent movements via infrared sensors, and occasionally unleashing one of their two Hellfire missiles on a target. From about 36,000 flying hours in 2005, the Predators are expected to log 66,000 hours this year over Iraq and Afghanistan.

The MQ-9 Reaper, when compared with the 1995-vintage Predator, represents a major evolution of the unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV. At five tons gross weight, the Reaper is four times heavier than the Predator. Its size is 36 feet long, with a 66-foot wingspan is comparable to the profile of the Air Force's workhorse A-10 attack plane. It can fly twice as fast and twice as high as the Predator. Most significantly, it carries many more weapons.

While the Predator is armed with two Hellfire missiles, the Reaper can carry 14 of the air-to-ground weapons or four Hellfires and two 500-pound bombs.

"It's not a recon squadron," Col. Joe Guasella, operations chief for the Central Command's air component, said of the Reapers. "It's an attack squadron, with a lot more kinetic ability." "Kinetic" is Pentagon argot for destructive power. It is what the Air Force had in mind when it christened its newest robot plane with a name associated with death. "The name Reaper captures the lethal nature of this new weapon system," Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, said in announcing the name last September.

General Atomics of San Diego has built at least nine of the MQ-9s thus far, at a cost of $69 million per set of four aircraft, with ground equipment.

The Air Force's 432nd Wing, a UAV unit formally established on May 1, is to eventually fly 60 Reapers and 160 Predators. The numbers to be assigned to Iraq and Afghanistan will be classified. The Reaper is expected to be flown as the Predator by a two-member team of pilot and sensor operator who work at computer control stations and video screens that display what the UAV "sees." Teams at Balad, housed in a hangar beside the runways, perform the takeoffs and landings, and similar teams at Nevada 's Creech Air Force Base, linked to the aircraft via satellite, take over for the long hours of overflying the Iraqi landscape.

American ground troops, equipped with laptops that can download real-time video from UAVs overhead, "want more and more of it," said Maj. Chris Snodgrass, the Predator squadron commander here. The Reaper's speed will help. "Our problem is speed," Snodgrass said of the 140-mph Predator. "If there are troops in contact, we may not get there fast enough. The Reaper will be faster and fly farther."

The new robot plane is expected to be able to stay aloft for 14 hours fully armed, watching an area and waiting for targets to emerge. "It's going to bring us flexibility, range, speed and persistence," said regional commander North, "such that I will be able to work lots of areas for a long, long time."

* * * *

Keep up the good work, Air Force guys...

Charles M. Grist

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Taliban Moves Closer to Pakistan's Nukes

Other than the ominous march of Iran toward nuclear weapons, the next greatest fear is that the Taliban - who were run out of Afghanistan in 2003 by the United States - will someday get hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

Sadly, the Pakistani leadership still believes their greatest threat is India, when the disease within their borders is the bigger danger.

Here is a good article from David Ignatius:

* * * *

Moment of Truth in Pakistan

By David Ignatius
Sunday, May 3, 2009

President Obama convened a crisis meeting at the White House last Monday to hear a report from Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had just returned from Pakistan. Mullen described the worrying situation there, with Taliban insurgents moving closer to the capital, Islamabad.

"It had gotten significantly worse than I expected as the Swat deal unraveled," Mullen explained in an interview. He was referring to a truce brokered in February in the Swat Valley, about 100 miles north of Islamabad. The Pakistani military had expected that the cease-fire would subdue Taliban fighters in Swat. Instead, the Muslim militants surged south into the district of Buner, on the doorstep of the capital.

Listening to Mullen's report at the White House were two senior officials -- Defense Secretary Bob Gates and special envoy Richard Holbrooke -- who were serving in government back in 1979, when a Muslim insurgency toppled the Iranian government, with harmful consequences that persist to this day. The two policy veterans "made the argument that it's worth studying the Iran model," recalls a senior official who took part in the White House meeting.

This was Pakistan week for the administration's foreign policy team, behind the self-congratulatory hubbub over the first 100 days. At a news conference Wednesday, Obama said that he was "gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan." He said his biggest worry was that "the civilian government there right now is very fragile."

The challenge in Pakistan is eerily similar to what the Carter administration faced with Iran: how to encourage the military to take decisive action against a Muslim insurgency without destroying the country's nascent democracy.

And there's a deeper psychological factor, too: how to exercise U.S. power effectively without triggering a backlash from a proud and prickly Muslim population that is scarred by what it sees as a history of American meddling.

"My experience is that knocking them [the Pakistani government and military] hard isn't going to work," said Mullen. "The harder we push, the further away they get." For the crackdown on the Taliban to be successful, he said, "it has to be their will, not ours."

What encourages U.S. officials is that recent events have been a wake-up call for a Pakistani elite in denial about the Taliban threat. One top civilian official said that he was less worried now than three weeks ago, because the military and civilian leaders in Islamabad have realized the danger they face. The Pakistani military has begun an effort to push back the Taliban, with mixed results. The Taliban responded fiercely to an assault Tuesday in Buner and seized three police stations, kidnapping dozens of police and paramilitary troops.

"My biggest concern is whether [the Pakistani government] will sustain it," Mullen said. He has told his Pakistani counterpart, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, that "we are prepared to assist whenever they want." During his recent visit, Mullen toured two Pakistani counterinsurgency training camps and came away impressed.

Mullen said that he hopes the Pakistanis will adopt a classic three-part counterinsurgency strategy -- clearing areas of Taliban control, holding those areas with enough troops so that the local population feels secure and then building through economic development, with U.S. help.

Politically, the United States is looking increasingly to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Muslim League dominates the crucial Punjab region. Officials note that 60 percent of the Pakistani population lives in Punjab and that Sharif's popularity rating there is over 80 percent.

President Asif Ali Zardari is far weaker, politically, and that worries the administration. He'll visit Washington this week to discuss the crisis with Obama.

U.S. officials are exploring ways to reduce the political strain on Zardari caused by U.S. drone attacks on al-Qaeda sanctuaries in the tribal areas. Pakistanis protest these attacks as violations of sovereignty, even though they had been blessed in secret by Zardari's government. This tension could be eased by some public formula for dual control. Explains a senior Obama administration official: "We're looking at how we might find some common way ahead where utilization of the asset could benefit the Pakistanis."

The growing crisis mentality in Washington poses its own threat to a sound Pakistan policy. It could produce red-hot American rhetoric and a corresponding U.S. impatience -- and that, in turn, would only make the Pakistanis more uneasy. Success depends on Islamabad's recognition that it's their problem and that they must act decisively.

The writer is co-host of PostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues. His e-mail address is

* * * *

As all these fundamentalist Muslims inch their way toward nuclear weapons, the world gets a little scarier every day.

Charles M. Grist