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Ask a Vet
Author: TriSec    Date: 09/13/2011 10:19:04

Good Morning.

Today is our 3,100th day in Iraq, and our 3,628th day in Afghanistan.

We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing wars, courtesy of Antiwar.com:

American Deaths
Since war began (3/19/03): 4474
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03): 4335
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3615
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09): 246
Since Operation New Dawn: 46

Other Coalition Troops - Iraq: 318
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,752
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 947
Contractor Employee Deaths - Iraq: 1,487
Journalists - Iraq : 348
Academics Killed - Iraq: 448

We find this morning's Cost of War passing through:

$ 1, 248, 858, 900, 000. 00

As we head towards the last quarter of 2011, it's time to start thinking about what's going to happen in Iraq at the end of the year. Allegedly, we're supposed to have all our troops out by December 31...but what's going to happen after that?

One of the longest-running opponents of the US in Iraq, Mujtada Al-Sadr has called on his private army to stop attacking US soldiers. Supposedly, he doesn't want to give the Iraq government any reason to ask for US troops to remain behind any longer than necessary...but in reality it's probably to create a false sense of security.

BAGHDAD -- An anti-American cleric is urging his followers to stop attacking U.S. troops in Iraq so that their withdrawal from the country isn't slowed down, a call meant to ramp up pressure on Baghdad's political leaders who are considering asking some American forces to stay.

In a statement posted on his website, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told his militias to halt attacks against U.S. forces until the withdrawal is finished at the end of the year as required under a security agreement between Washington and Baghdad.

"Out of my desire to complete Iraq's independence and to finish the withdrawal of the occupation forces from our holy lands, I am obliged to halt military operations of the honest Iraqi resistance until the withdrawal of the occupation forces is complete," al-Sadr said in the statement, posted late Saturday. Sadrist lawmaker Mushraq Naji confirmed the statement on Sunday.

However, al-Sadr warned that "if the withdrawal doesn't happen ... the military operations will be resumed in a new and tougher way."

The statement followed last week's notice by U.S. officials in Baghdad, announcing the start of the withdrawal.

There are currently about 45,000 U.S. forces in Iraq.

However, U.S. and Iraqi leaders are currently weighing whether some American troops should remain past the Dec. 31 deadline as Baghdad continues to struggle with instability and burgeoning influence from neighboring Iran. Last month, Iraqi leaders began negotiating with U.S. officials in Baghdad to keep at least several thousand troops in Iraq to continue training the nation's shaky security forces.

Officials in Washington say President Obama is willing to keep between 3,000 and 10,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. But with fewer than four months before the final deadline, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and parliament still have not indicated how many U.S. troops Iraq might need, how long they would stay, or exactly what they would be doing.

But will that be good enough? The Pentagon is hoping so, and is starting to use the term "Iraqi Good Enough". As far as I can tell, that means that while Iraq's security forces are nowhere near as good as the US, they are "good enough" for Iraq's purposes. Somehow I find that vaguely insulting, but I'm not an Iraqi. We'll see how this works out.

RAMADI, Iraq -- There are 3,200 soldiers in the 82nd Airborne's 2nd Brigade Combat Team serving in Anbar province, but only a handful of those paratroops will ever fire a shot at an enemy this year.

They still seek out roadside bombs to clear, though they don't find very many. They remain on call for Iraqi security forces operating in a province that is still a base of operations for al-Qaida in Iraq, but the police rarely call for backup.

Although U.S. soldiers in Anbar still do intelligence-gathering and some Iraqi commando training, the brigade's mission is focused on advising security force managers on how to run their units more efficiently. Soldiers say the Iraqis are getting it -- not to a U.S. Army standard, but to a level that they call "Iraqi good enough."

As U.S. and Iraqi officials negotiate a new security agreement to allow U.S. troops to remain in an advisory and training capacity, many senior U.S. military officers in Anbar province and elsewhere say the Iraqis are ready to take over security without the United States, despite persistent problems with sectarianism and due process.
"If the mission in Anbar were to end tomorrow … the organizations here right now are fully competent to maintain security," said Col. Tim Kehoe, deputy commanding officer of the 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.

"If you want to know what else they need from us, I would say, 'Not much.'"

No one is saying that Iraqi security forces are ready to keep everyone safe. Military officials will say, however, that they are capable of policing Anbar and other areas, to handle a certain level of violence there.

Anbar province, which constitutes about one-third of Iraq, was mostly spared from the violence that erupted Aug. 15, when dozens of attacks throughout Iraq were launched, presumably by al-Qaida in Iraq. They killed at least 90 people and caused some to doubt whether the 650,000 Iraqi security forces personnel have made the gains that U.S military officials say they have.

Senior officials point to statistics showing attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces dropping from 145 per day in 2007 to about 14 per day now as proof of progress.
But officials acknowledge that structural problems within the Iraqi security forces are preventing them from stopping coordinated terror attacks.

"What they're lacking is that national database that can fuse intelligence together from all the different sources that they have," said Brig. Gen. Michael Smith, director of the Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission-Police. "They may find in time that they had a lot of this information out there, but no one ever linked all of these different data points together."

I don't suppose it would be "Ask a Vet" without a visit from our friends at IAVA. Long before he went to war, long before he founded IAVA, Paul Rieckhoff was at Ground Zero. Like everyone else, he had some thoughts to share.

I was at Ground Zero ten years ago and remember it well. Too well, really. I remember the blue sky. I remember a gigantic plane engine sitting calmly on a street corner like a piece of modern art. I remember the rubble. I remember the bucket brigades. I remember the lifeless faces and bodies. I know I’ll Never Forget and I’m not the only one.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the phrase “Never Forget” became popular in all corners of America. It was more than just a catchphrase. It came to represent a unified nation’s grief and resolve. Grief about what had happened and for those who died, and resolve to move past the tragedy. That resolve proved especially needed in the decade that followed, from a global financial crisis to political gridlock in DC to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that still haven’t ended. And whatever one thinks of those wars, no one has better represented the resolve of “Never Forget” than the service members that have fought in our name. They remember their fallen brothers and sisters in arms, and honor them by moving forward – something we as a nation are in the process of doing ourselves.

Despite the fact that less than one percent of Americans have served in the Armed Forces since 9/11, ten years of conflict means a lot of combat veterans have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last month, that count crossed the 2.3 million people threshold. Some of these vets have stayed in the service, deploying back to war three, four, even five times. Others have returned back home and found other ways to continue to serve their country. This 9/11 Generation has started to change our country for the better from the ground-up. Organizations like Purple Heart Homes and individuals like education activistWes Moore have applied the hard-earned lessons learned under fire back home, for the betterment of their communities. And those are just two examples of many, many more vets on the forefront of service and progress.

9/11 changed the world for many Americans, military and civilians alike. I was at my studio apartment in Manhattan when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Like many of my fellow New Yorkers, I rushed down to Ground Zero, eager to help where I could. I experienced something there that would later serve me well in combat - in the heat of the moment, there’s no time for second-guessing or emotion. There’s only time for action. The reflecting comes later.

A lot of things stay with me from that day. Like when a group of us dug out the body of an older woman in a black dress. She was still clutching her purse. She was somebody’s mother. Somebody’s wife. Her bones were gone. All of them. Dust.

Less than two years later, I found myself in a different kind of dust and sand, patrolling the streets of Baghdad as an infantry platoon leader with the New York National Guard. On this anniversary, it’s important our entire country reflects on the sacrifices and service of those inspired by the events of 9/11. Former U.S. Army Captain Joseph Kearns Goodwin summed it up smartly last week on Meet the Press while discussing why he decided to serve. “It was not so much anger … or a sense of vengeance,” he said. “I’d been granted almost every advantage a free and prosperous society can give you … I felt it incumbent to give something back to this great country that had given me so much.”

Part of Never Forget is Moving Forward. We honor the fallen that way, whether they fell in the towers, at the Pentagon, Shanksville, or on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. And if you’re not sure how, or not sure you’re ready, find a veteran on the forefront and ask him or her to help. They know how, because they’ve had to do it before.

96 comments (Latest Comment: 09/14/2011 03:02:33 by clintster)
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