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Archive for January 11th, 2007

Gates: Timetable for Troop Boost Unclear


WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrats who control Congress pounced on President Bush’s plan to increase troops in Iraq on Thursday as a bad mistake that ignores public sentiment and the advice of top generals. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he could not say how long the buildup would last.

“In choosing to escalate the war, the president virtually stands alone,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a Senate speech. However, he promised to give the plan careful consideration.

Ahead of testimony on Capitol Hill, Gates told a White House briefing it remains unclear how long the “temporary” military buildup ordered by Bush will last.

But he said that the United States should know pretty soon whether Iraqis were living up to their part of the deal and increasing their own forces.

In appearances on Capitol Hill, at news briefings and on morning television programs, administration officials worked to persuade a skeptical Democratic-led Congress to accept Bush’s troop buildup as the last best chance for reversing Iraq’s slide.

“All Americans know that the stakes in Iraq are enormous, and we all share the belief that the situation is currently unacceptable. On this we are united,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters.

Bush’s new strategy, announced Wednesday in a prime-time address to the nation, increases U.S. forces in Iraq by 21,500 and demands greater cooperation from the Iraqi government.

Asked how long that buildup might last, Gates told the briefing, “It’s viewed as a temporary surge, but I think no one has a really clear idea of how long that might be.”

Democrats voiced deep skepticism over the buildup.

Reid said that Bush ignored the results of November’s midterm elections that ended 12 years of GOP control of Congress, ignored the advice of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and “a significant number of top generals.”
“Putting more U.S. combat forces in the middle of a civil war is a mistake,” Reid said.

“We’re not going to baby sit a civil war,” Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told NBC’s

“Today” Show. He said the Democratic-controlled Congress would not undercut troops already in Iraq but would explore ways to restrict the president from expanding the mission.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told CBS'”The Early Show” that since the new Democratic-led Congress convened last week, “questions are now being asked of this administration that haven’t been asked for almost four years.”

Democratic options were limited, however. Party leaders have mulled a resolution of disapproval, but that would be nonbinding, and there also has been talk of attaching a host of conditions to approval of a spending bill to cover the costs of the buildup.

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In this clip, Keith Olbermann reviews various Bush Administration plans and slogans that have failed to secure Iraq.

“Before Mr. Bush was elected, he said he was no nation-builder, nation-building was ‘wrong for America.’ Now, he says, it is ‘vital’ for America,” Olbermann says.

He adds, “[Bush] said he would never have put U.S. troops under foreign control; today, U.S. troops observe Iraqi restrictions.”

Olbermann’s review, on his MSNBC show, was aired just before President Bush’s speech to the nation regarding changes in his Iraq strategy.

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During an appearance on the Ed Schultz Show today, Senate Armed Forces Committee member Ted Kennedy (D-MA) will say that it was “news” to Congressional members that US troops are “restricted by the Iraqis,” RAW STORY has learned, after receiving a copy of the prerecorded interview.
The most-listened to liberal talk show host is set to break the news on his 12pm – 3pm EST show.

“I was startled to find out that our servicemen and women in cleaning out Baghdad have been restricted by the Iraqis,” Kennedy says, “and about where they can go, the battles that they can fight.”

Schultz asks the senator if retiring CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid had ever told Congress.

“No, but we’ve heard that now from the national security adviser,” Kennedy says. “Mr. Bartlett said that yesterday on CNN and this is all news to us.”

Before President Bush’s speech on Wednesday, White House conselor Dan Bartlett had said that troops were “handcuffed by political interference by the Iraqi leadership.”

“The rules of engagement, where those troops can go, who they can go after,” Bartlett had said, “we’re severely restricted by politics in Baghdad.”

“That’s going to change as well,” Bartlett added. “Prime Minister Maliki has made that very clear.”

President Bush made reference to the “news” in his speech last night, as well.
“In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence,” Bush said. “This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter these neighborhoods – and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.”

DEVELOPING….

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‘Enough is enough;’ Democrats blast Bush speech


The following are statements by Democratic Congressional members sent to RAW STORY shortly after President Bush’s speech. More will be added as we receive them.

Senator Russ Feingold’s statement:

“Tonight, the President ignored the recommendations of members of both parties, military leaders, foreign policy experts, and the will of the American people by announcing that he intends to escalate our involvement in Iraq by sending more troops there. Congress must bring an end to what has been one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in the history of our nation. The President continues to deny the devastating impact that keeping our brave troops in Iraq is having on our national security. The American people have rejected the Administration’s Iraq-centric foreign policy. It is time to bring our troops out of Iraq and refocus on defeating the global terrorist networks that threaten this country.”

Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) tonight also responded to President Bush’s Iraq policy address:

“Nearly four years old, President Bush’s War in Iraq has been an abysmal failure,” said Stark. “The war has cost more than $400 billion and taken the lives of more than 3,000 brave American troops and countless Iraqis. Time and time again, President Bush and Republicans in Congress made false claims about our supposed progress, only to have the situation on the ground get worse and worse. Today, our troops remain in harms way, even as Iraq has spiraled into civil war.”

“In his address, President Bush committed to more of the same – more troops, more wishful thinking, and more empty slogans,” Stark continued.

“Bush didn’t offer a new strategy, he offered new spin. Republicans have repeatedly promised the Iraqis would soon take control of their own security. But the presence of American troops has made and will continue to make such an outcome less likely.”

“Enough is enough. It is past time Congress takes America’s best interests into its own hands. I oppose escalation and, given the opportunity, will vote against providing billions in funding to deploy thousands of additional troops. Rather than send more servicemen and women to die in Iraq, we should serve the will of the American people and bring all of our troops home,” Stark concluded.

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Senate Assistant Democratic Leader Richard Durbin released the following statement tonight on President Bush’s address to the nation on the war in Iraq:

“Last November, the American people delivered a strong message of no confidence in the President’s Iraq policy and clearly expressed their desire for a new direction. The President had an opportunity tonight to demonstrate that he understood the depth of the concern in the country, make a long overdue course correction, and articulate a clear mission for our engagement in Iraq.

Instead, he chose to escalate our involvement in Iraq’s civil war by proposing a substantial increase in the number of our forces there. This proposal endangers our national security by placing additional burdens on our already over-extended military thereby making it even more difficult to respond to other crises.

“While we all want to see a stable and peaceful Iraq, many current and former senior military leaders have made clear that sending more American combat troops does not advance that goal. Our troops have performed the difficult missions given to them in Iraq with great courage. The Congress and the American people will continue to support them and provide them with every resource they need. But our military forces deserve a policy commensurate with the sacrifices they have been asked to make. Regrettably, the President has not provided that tonight.

“Rather than escalating our involvement in Iraq by sending additional troops, we believe that a plan for the way forward in Iraq requires these elements:
Shifting greater responsibility to the Iraqis for their security and transitioning the principal mission of our forces from combat to training, logistics, force protection, and counter terrorism operations;

Beginning the phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months; and Implementing an aggressive diplomatic strategy, both within the region and beyond, which reflects the continuing obligation of the international community to help stabilize Iraq and which assists the Iraqis in achieving a sustainable political settlement, including by amending their constitution.

“Iraqi political leaders will not take the necessary steps to achieve a political resolution to the sectarian problems in their country until they understand that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended. Escalating our military involvement in Iraq sends precisely the wrong message and we oppose it.

“In the days ahead, Congress will exercise its Constitutional responsibilities by giving the President’s latest proposal the scrutiny our troops and the American people expect. We will demand answers to the tough questions that have not been asked or answered to date. The American people want a change of course in Iraq. We intend to keep pressing President Bush to provide it.”

DEVELOPING…

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In Speech to Nation, Bush Admits Errors in Iraq


WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 — President Bush will announce tonight that he is sending more than 21,000 American troops to Iraq to quell the violence there, and he will tell the American people that a troop increase “at this crucial moment” will bring American forces home faster and help assure survival of the young democracy.

While conceding for the first time that he provided neither enough troops nor enough resources to control the chaos in Iraq last year, the president reasserts that the struggle in Iraq “will determine the direction of the global war on terror,” and thus directly affect Americans’ safety at home, according to excerpts of his speech released in advance by the White House this evening.

“The new strategy I outline tonight will change America’s course in Iraq and help us succeed in the fight against terror,” Mr. Bush says.

Mr. Bush will also use the speech to warn the Iraqi government that the American commitment to the country “is not open-ended,” according to a senior administration official who described the speech. To re-enforce the theme, Mr. Bush will declare: “Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.”

But the administration official said that Mr. Bush would make no explicit linkage between Iraq’s progress toward reaching new “benchmarks” — from political reconciliation to the provision of long-promised additional Iraqi combat brigades — and Mr. Bush’s commitment to a rapid escalation of the American presence.

The addition of the more than 21,000 over the next four months has already raised a political furor in Congress, and represents a huge bet by Mr. Bush that he can rescue a mission in Iraq that the White House now admits is failing. A top aide to Mr. Bush acknowledged that “there is a lot of skepticism” both in the United States and in Iraq about the ability of the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to deliver what he has promised.

But Mr. Bush says that pulling back now “would force a collapse of the Iraqi government.”

“Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer and confront an enemy that is even more lethal,” Mr. Bush says. “If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin to come home.”

Mr. Bush’s speech, which will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, will include a stark new warning to Iran against what the administration says are its efforts to promote violent attacks in Iraq against American targets.

“I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq’s other leaders that America’s commitment is not open-ended,” Mr. Bush says. “If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people — and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.”

Mr. Bush and his top advisers are acutely aware that their new strategy, only 13 months after they unveiled a “Plan for Victory” that was never executed, marks the last chance that the president may have to get Iraq right. He is committing more troops at a moment that almost all Democrats in Congress, and some Republicans, are openly opposing an increase in the number of American forces. Not since President Richard M. Nixon escalated the war in Vietnam, over public opposition, has a president taken such a risk with an increasingly unpopular war.

It comes after weeks of turmoil in Washington, in which Mr. Bush has overturned his Iraq strategy team, even as he was rewriting the plan. A new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, was brought in to replace Donald H. Rumsfeld, who opposed key elements of the strategy the president will describe tonight. He sped the removal of the American commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, and has replaced him with a counterinsurgency specialist, Gen. David Petreaus, who has embraced the new plan. A new American ambassador has been nominated to Baghdad as well, to replace Zalmay Khalilzad, a Sunni of Afghan heritage, who will represent the United States in the United Nations.

But the plan described by White House officials today, and by other administration officials in recent days, may fall short of what many experts inside and outside the government believe may be necessary.

Mr. Bush will announce that five additional American combat brigades will be available for securing Baghdad, with the first two arriving within the next month. They are supposed to be met, White House officials said, by an Iraqi brigade that is scheduled to be in place by Feb. 1, and two more by Feb. 15. He will also send additional troops to Anbar Province in western Iraq.

Mr. Bush will argue in his speech that the Iraqis are in the lead in the effort to secure their own capital, and that each Iraqi brigade will be accompanied by a battalion of Americans, about 600 to 700 strong. But it is unclear whether those Iraqi troops, who have been promised before, are prepared to take on the Shia militias, which the president will acknowledge constitute the biggest source of violence and instability.

Mr. Bush, the administration official said, will acknowledge that the hopes he invested in his “Plan for Victory” strategy at the end of 2005 “were dashed in 2006, as sectarian violence got out ahead of the Iraqi forces, and got out ahead of the American forces.”

He will embrace the Iraq Study Group’s finding that the situation in the country is “grave and deteriorating,” a far cry from Mr. Bush’s claim, just before the Nov. 7 election, that “absolutely, we are winning.” But he will argue, the aide said, that “American cannot afford to fail.”

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Bush adding 21,500 troops to Iraq force


WASHINGTON – Unswayed by anti-war passions, President Bush was to say Wednesday he will send 21,500 additional U.S. forces to Iraq to quell its near-anarchy. He was to acknowledge for the first time he had erred by failing to order a troop buildup last year.

The military increase will push the American presence in Iraq toward its highest level and put Bush on a collision course with the new Democratic Congress. It also runs counter to advice from some generals.

Bush was to announce the buildup in a prime-time speech to the nation. Excerpts of his remarks were released in advance by the White House.

Bush planned to say that “to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government. … Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer and confront an enemy that is even more lethal.”

“If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.”

The new Democratic leaders of Congress met with Bush before his speech and complained later that their opposition to a buildup had been ignored. “This is the third time we are going down this path. Two times this has not worked,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif. “Why are they doing this now? That question remains.”

Senate and House Democrats are arranging votes urging the president not to send more troops. While lacking the force of law, the measures would compel Republicans to go on record as either bucking the president or supporting an escalation. Several Republicans appear ready to support the Democrats’ measure.

After nearly four years of bloody combat, the speech was perhaps Bush’s last credible chance to try to present a winning strategy in Iraq and persuade Americans to change their minds about the unpopular war, which has cost the lives of more than 3,000 members of the U.S. military as well as more than $400 billion.

The president was to say Iraq must meet its responsibilities, too — but he put no deadlines on Baghdad to do so.

“America’s commitment is not open-ended,” he planned to say. “If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.”

Bush was to readily acknowledge making mistakes in previous efforts to stop the relentless violence in Baghdad. “There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents,” the president was to say. “And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.”

He was to say Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had promised that U.S. forces would have a free hand and that “political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.”

Bush’s approach amounts to a huge gamble on al-Maliki’s willingness — and ability — to deliver on promises he has consistently failed to keep: to disband Shiite militias, pursue national reconciliation and make good on commitments for Iraqi forces to handle security operations in Baghdad.

Bush was to describe his plan — combining efforts to spur the Iraqi economy, fix broken services and clean up scarred neighborhoods — as a blueprint to “change America’s course in Iraq and help us succeed in the fight against terror.” From a military standpoint, it did not represent a major shift. Even as more U.S. troops go in, Bush was to say the burden would be on Iraqis to tame the violence.

“Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people,” Bush’s prepared remarks said. “And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.”

In a now-familiar refrain, Bush was to portray the war in Iraq as “the decisive ideological struggle of our time.”

“In the long run,” he was to say, “the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy by advancing liberty across a troubled region.”

The buildup comes two months after elections that were widely seen as a call for the withdrawal of some or all U.S. forces from Iraq. Polling by AP-Ipsos in December found that only 27 percent of Americans approved of Bush’s handling of Iraq, his lowest rating yet.

Bush’s blueprint would boost the number of U.S. troops in Iraq — now at 132,000 — to 153,500 at a cost of $5.6 billion. The highest number was 160,000 a year ago in a troop buildup for Iraqi elections.

The latest increase calls for sending 17,500 U.S. combat troops to Baghdad. The first of five brigades will arrive by next Monday. The next would arrive by Feb. 15 and the reminder would come in 30-day increments.

Bush also committed 4,000 more Marines to Anbar Province, a base of the Sunni insurgency and foreign al-Qaida fighters.

The bulk of the U.S. buildup will come from extending the deployments of three Army brigades and two Marine battalions and moving one Army brigade into Iraq a bit sooner than scheduled.

As a result of the heavier use of the active duty troops under the Bush plan, officials said the Pentagon may have to change current policies in order to give the military greater access to the National Guard and Reserves.

Al-Maliki has pledged three additional brigades, 10,000 to 12,000 troops, for security operations in Baghdad.

Bush’s plan mirrored earlier moves attempting to give Iraqi forces a bigger security role. The chief difference appeared to be a recognition that the Iraqis need more time to take on the full security burden.

Another difference involves doubling the number of U.S. civilian workers who help coordinate local reconstruction projects. These State Department-led units — dubbed Provincial Reconstruction Teams — are to focus on projects both inside and outside the heavily guarded Green Zone, and some will be merged into combat brigades.

Several Republican senators are candidates for backing the resolution against a troop increase. Sens. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record) and Olympia Snowe (news, bio, voting record) of Maine, Gordon Smith (news, bio, voting record) of Oregon and Norm Coleman (news, bio, voting record) of Minnesota said they oppose sending more soldiers.

Republican Sens. George Voinovich (news, bio, voting record) of Ohio and John Warner (news, bio, voting record) of Virginia also might be persuaded. Warner said he supports the Iraq Study Group recommendations, which strongly cautioned against an increase in troops unless advocated by military commanders.

Warner said he has questions about the merits of sending more troops when Gen. John Abizaid, the top military commander in the Middle East, testified last fall that additional troops were not the answer. Other senior generals also have expressed doubts. The White House said Abizaid and other senior commanders support Bush’s plan.

Also backing the president’s plan were maverick Sens. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting record), R-S.C., and Joseph Lieberman (news, bio, voting record), I-Conn.

Bush’s strategy ignores key recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which in December called for a new diplomatic offensive and an outreach to Syria and Iran.

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Better armor lacking for new troops in Iraq

WASHINGTON // The thousands of troops that President Bush is expected to order to Iraq will join the fight largely without the protection of the latest armored vehicles that withstand bomb blasts far better than the Humvees in wide use, military officers said.

Vehicles such as the Cougar and the M1117 Armored Security Vehicle have proven ability to save lives, but production started late and relatively small numbers are in use in Iraq, mostly because of money shortages, industry officials said.

More than 1,000 American troops have been killed by roadside bombs since the war began in March 2003. At present there are fewer than 1,000 of the new armored trucks in Iraq. At $500,000 to $700,000 each, they cost more than twice as much as a standard Humvee, but already they are proving their worth.

“They are expensive, but they are going to save lives,” said Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, during a recent trip to Iraq, where he reviewed the service’s effort to get more of the vehicles.Most American troops patrol in the 20,000 Humvees the Pentagon has sent to Iraq.

Most of those vehicles have been layered with added armor plating as the Pentagon has struggled over the past three years to counter the increasingly powerful and sophisticated roadside bombs, or improvised explosive devices, planted by insurgents.

Two recent incidents illustrate the problem with the M1114 Humvee: The weight of added armor can make it unwieldy. And even with the extra armor, its flat bottom absorbs the full impact from bombs buried in the road, often buckling or breaking the chassis in half.

On Dec. 30, Army Sgt. John Michael Sullivan, 22, of Hixon, Tenn., was killed when his Humvee was struck by an IED in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad. Four days earlier, Army Spc. Joseph A. Strong, 21, of Lebanon, Ind., and Spc. Douglas L. Tinsley, 21, of Chester, S.C., died when their Humvee rolled into a canal during a patrol in Baghdad.

“The problem with the M1114s is, they are overloaded and flat-bottomed,” said Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, the senior Marine commander in Iraq.

Today, the Marines are moving quickly to buy and deploy combat vehicles with a key design improvement over the Humvee: They are built with a V-shaped hull that deflects a blast up and outward, leaving passengers shaken, but alive.

Under a $125 million contract, the Marines are buying 100 Cougar and 44 Buffalo armored trucks, known collectively as MRAP, for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, made by Force Protection Inc., a small company in Ladson, S.C. The firm is producing 40 vehicles a month, said its vice president, Mike Aldrich, a retired Army officer educated at West Point.

Aldrich said the design grew out of a joint Army and Marine Corps request “designed to literally stop the bleeding from up-armored Humvees in some of the most dangerous areas in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The military services said last month that they need 4,060 of the MRAP vehicles, with 2,500 for the Army, 538 for the Navy and 1,022 for the Marines. The delivery schedule is uncertain. Meanwhile, a permanent replacement for the Humvee, incorporating the latest design and armor improvements, is years away, Pentagon officials said, and mired in technical and cost disputes.

Separately, the Army is buying the 15-ton M1117 armored vehicle for its military police. The V-hull vehicles were in production in the late 1990s but were canceled by the Army as unnecessary. In June 2004, the service decided that it needed them after all. The Army has said it needs 2,600.Today, Textron Inc. is producing 48 per month at its New Orleans plant under a contract for 1,250 vehicles.

“That’s all they had the money for,” said Clay Moise, vice president for business development for Textron’s Marine and Land division.

But a lack of money only partly explains why, four years into the war, there is a shortage of vehicles that can effectively survive an IED.

“The key reason it is taking so long is pretty simple: At each step along the way for the past four years, the key policymakers have assumed we were just months away from beginning to withdraw” from Iraq, said Loren B. Thompson, a national security analyst at the Lexington Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Arlington, Va.

“As a result, they never made long-term plans for occupying the country effectively.”

Aldrich said the explanation is more complex.

“This is a radically different vehicle, and it took time, even under the pressure of war, for this country to tool up and meet the demand,” he said. “Our contribution to the delay was not being able to press a button and instantly start producing 20 a week.

And the warfighter had to adjust and realize this wasn’t a temporary problem – that we are more likely to face this type of attack than any other for decades to come.”The Humvee, of course, has its admirers.

In its newer versions, such as the M1114, added armor is matched with a more powerful, turbocharged diesel engine and other improvements.

“I love it. It’s not at all hard to drive,” said Army Spec. Jessica Dersch, 22, of Erie, Pa. “I’ve been through three explosions in 10 months,” she said in a recent interview outside Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi.

But the IED threat to Humvees is reflected in the Marines’ hard-won experience in Anbar province.”If you are hit by an IED, your chance of survival is four or five times greater in an MRAP than in a M1114,” said a Marine commander, referring to the standard Humvee.

About half of the Marines’ combat vehicles in Anbar are Humvees, and these are associated with 60 percent of the combat deaths and 65 percent of the wounded Marines, officers said. By comparison, attacks on V-hull armored vehicles have resulted in 2.1 percent of Marine combat deaths and 3.5 percent of the service’s wounded.

A report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said the IED problem came about in large measure because there were not enough U.S. troops in Iraq after the 2003 invasion to secure Saddam Hussein’s ammunition caches.

In the weeks after the invasion, vast amounts of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, artillery shells and other explosives were stolen from unguarded Iraqi arsenals.

“IEDs made from looted explosives have caused about half of all U.S. combat fatalities and casualties in Iraq and have killed hundreds of Iraqis,” the GAO said.

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