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Promoting Incompetence in Iraq

BY Luis Carlos Montalvan

How could the commanders of the world's greatest Army send soldiers into battle without the weapons and resources to accomplish their mission?

Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gens. George Casey, David Petraeus and Ricardo Sanchez have not heeded the requests of their subordinate officers for more resources and more troops.

Instead, these top commanders have consistently misrepresented to Congress the strength and number of Iraqi Security Forces as Iraq falls deeper into civil war. Their misrepresentations should be grounds for criminal indictments and courts-martial.

During my tours of duty in Iraq in 2003 and 2005, I witnessed and participated in American military operations whose metrics for success were the numbers of detainees apprehended – without regard to the tribal, ethnic and sectarian strife they caused.

Sadly, since returning home in 2006 and departing the Army on Sept. 11, 2007, I’ve noticed a lack of scrutiny of our top commanders.

In September 2003, I was put in charge of 80 soldiers who entered Iraq without any weapons or ammunition. We were mortared for three days in Balad, north of Baghdad, before arriving in Al Anbar province to link up with our unit. We were unable to return fire.

Later that month, we had to secure the five-kilometer border crossing at Al Waleed, the largest crossing point between Syria and Iraq, with a mere 30 to 40 troops. We were also in charge of recruiting, training and equipping Iraqi Security Forces – uniformed and equipped militias – and redeveloping the local infrastructure and economy. I wrote countless memoranda to my superiors requesting more resources and personnel, but they went unanswered.

I asked myself then as I ask myself now: How could the commanders of the greatest Army in the world send soldiers into battle without the weapons and resources to accomplish their mission?

Also at Al Waleed, I witnessed American counterintelligence soldiers waterboard a prisoner. It was disturbing and wrong. Nonetheless, I was unable to intervene.

On another occasion, my higher headquarters ordered me (unlawfully) not to offer humanitarian assistance to refugees caught between the Syrian and Iraqi borders. Dozens would have died had we not disobeyed those orders.

I lost many friends in Iraq – American and Iraqi. The death toll of U.S. soldiers ticks on above 4,000, as the deaths of innocent Iraqis number in the hundreds of thousands, with millions more displaced and suffering.

In 2005, I was assigned to oversee the security of the northern half of the Syrian-Iraqi border and the port of entry at Rabiya. For that we needed an automated computer tracking system for immigration and emigration, known as a Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System, or PISCES.

At a high-level conference in Baghdad’s “Red Zone” in June 2005, I was told that Coalition Forces possessed a dozen PISCES and that they would soon be installed at the ports of entry. But as of March 2006, when the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment departed western Nineveh province, no PISCES – or equivalent tracking system – had been installed at Rabiya.

The PISCES system has proven effective abroad. British authorities were able to apprehend the terrorists responsible for the London subway bombing in 2005 after PISCES tracked their movements from the Middle East to Europe.

The lack of sufficient equipment along Iraq’s borders contributed to the country’s instability. For four years after the invasion, foreign fighters were free to move transnationally without fear of apprehension. Many Americans and Iraqis were wounded or killed as a result.

Petraeus, for one, has been nearly impervious to scrutiny for failures in Iraq under his command. Despite those failures, many senior leaders have been promoted again and again.

More than one year after the “surge” strategy was announced, credible voices charge that Iraq today is no better off than before. Petraeus and his “brain trust” of officers and diplomats have made every effort to convince the American and Iraqi people that progress has been made, but the reality is that their measures of success are fraught with fallacious assumptions and offer skewed perspectives.

Members of this administration, diplomats and high-level military leaders got us into this Iraq disaster. And they continue to proctor it with arrogant obstinacy and incredible incompetence. They must be held accountable.

Luis Carlos Montalvan, a former captain in the U.S. Army, is the highest-ranking member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. His work has been published in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Washington Post.

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