Saturday, February 24, 2007

Americans underestimate Iraqi death toll

Yahoo! News
Americans underestimate Iraqi death toll
By NANCY BENAC, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Americans are keenly aware of how many U.S. forces have lost their lives in Iraq, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll. But they woefully underestimate the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed.

When the poll was conducted earlier this month, a little more than 3,100 U.S. troops had been killed. The midpoint estimate among those polled was right on target, at about 3,000.

Far from a vague statistic, the death toll is painfully real for many Americans. Seventeen percent in the poll know someone who has been killed or wounded in Iraq. And among adults under 35, those closest to the ages of those deployed, 27 percent know someone who has been killed or wounded.

For Daniel Herman, a lawyer in New Castle, Pa., a co-worker's nephew is the human face of the dead.

"This is a fairly rural area," he said. "When somebody dies, ... you hear about it. It makes it very concrete to you."

The number of Iraqis killed, however, is much harder to pin down, and that uncertainty is perhaps reflected in Americans' tendency to lowball the Iraqi death toll by tens of thousands.

Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000 and could be much higher; some unofficial estimates range into the hundreds of thousands. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone.

Among those polled for the AP survey, however, the median estimate of Iraqi deaths was 9,890. The median is the point at which half the estimates were higher and half lower.

Christopher Gelpi, a Duke University political scientist who tracks public opinion on war casualties, said a better understanding of the Iraqi death toll probably wouldn't change already negative public attitudes toward the war much. People in democracies generally don't shy away from inflicting civilian casualties, he said, and they may be even more tolerant of them in situations such as Iraq, where many of the civilian deaths are caused by other Iraqis.

"You have to look at who's doing the killing," said Neal Crawford, a restaurant manager in Suttons Bay, Mich., who guessed that about 10,000 Iraqis had been killed. "If these people are dying because a roadside bomb goes off or if there's an insurgent attack in a marketplace, it's an unfortunate circumstance of war — people die."

Gelpi said that while Americans may not view Iraqi deaths through the same prism as American losses, they may use the Iraqi death toll to gauge progress, or lack thereof, on the U.S. effort to promote a stable, secure democracy in Iraq.

To many, he said, "the fact that so many are being killed is an indication that we're not succeeding."

Whatever their understanding of the respective death tolls, three-quarters of those polled said the numbers of both Americans and Iraqis who have been killed are "unacceptable." Two-thirds said they tend to feel upset when a soldier dies, while the rest say such deaths are unfortunate but part of what war is about.

Sometimes it's hard for people to sort out their conflicting emotions.

"I don't know if I'm numb to it or not," said 86-year-old Robert Lipold of Las Vegas. "It's something you see in the paper every day there. And how do you feel when in the back of your mind it's unnecessary?"

Given a range of possible words to describe their feelings about the overall situation in Iraq, people were most likely to identify with "worried," selected by 81 percent of those surveyed.

Other descriptive words selected by respondents:

_Compassionate: 74 percent.

_Angry: 62 percent.

_Tired: 61 percent.

_Hopeful: 51 percent.

_Proud: 38 percent.

_Numb: 27 percent.

Women were more likely than men to feel worried, compassionate, angry and tired; men were more likely than women to feel proud, a finding consistent with traditional differences in attitudes toward war between the sexes.

For women, said Gelpi, "there is an emotional response to casualties that men don't show. ... It could be some sort of socialization that men get about the military or combat as being honorable that women don't get."

Charlotte Pirch, a lawyer from Fountain Valley, Calif., said she's "always appalled and just very upset at hearing about more casualties, whether it's U.S. troops or troops from another country."

Pirch said two of her nieces are married to men who served in Iraq and she doesn't live far from Camp Pendleton, which has sent many U.S. troops to Iraq. But she added, "Whether I knew someone personally or not, I would still feel it as a citizen of our country."

Perhaps surprisingly, the poll found little difference in attitudes toward the war between those who did and did not know someone who had been killed or wounded. There was a difference, however, in their opinions on whether opponents are right to criticize the war.

About half of those who know someone who has been killed or wounded felt it is right to criticize the war, compared with two-thirds of those who don't have a personal connection.

The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,002 adults, conducted Feb. 12-15, had a 3 percentage point margin of error.


AP writers Natasha Metzler and Ann Sanner and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this story.


Rudy Giuliani Is Not A Hero. He Is, However, A Coward.

Huffington Post
James Boyce
Rudy Giuliani Is Not A Hero. He Is, However, A Coward.

Rudy Giuliani is not a hero.

In fact, even The New York Times today is a little surprised that Giuliani is so scared on the campaign trail that he handpicks who gets to come see him. On the stump? Yes. Off the cuff real questions? No chance.

Could it be he doesn't want anyone asking about why he shipped Bernard Kerik out of the country or about his marriage to his cousin or his decision to put the New York City Command and Control Center next to the World Trade Center against the wishes of the FBI?

Could also be he's just a coward. Nothing more. Maybe less.


McCain "Worse Than Bush"


The state Democratic Party criticized McCain for his support for the war, calling him "worse than Bush" in a statement.

After the speech, McCain was asked by an audience member if he was "sucking up to the religious right." He drew laughs by responding: "What's wrong with sucking up to everybody?"

McCain Says Iraq Could End His Career

SEATTLE — Republican presidential hopeful John McCain said Friday that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has sacrificed his career to support the Iraq war, and the Arizona senator acknowledged that he could face the same fate.

McCain, a staunch defender of President Bush's new Iraq troop deployment strategy, said he worries that a cutback of British troops in southern Iraq announced by Blair this week could lead to stronger control by "Iranian-backed Shiite" forces. But he said Blair and the British deserve gratitude for their efforts.

"He has literally sacrificed his political career because of Iraq," McCain said during an appearance before the World Affairs Council and the City Club of Seattle. "That is a great testament to his political courage."

Asked later by a reporter if he was in danger of making the same sacrifice, McCain responded, "Sure."

His appearance in Seattle initially focused on trade, security and diplomatic policy in Asia, which has strong economic and cultural ties to the Pacific Northwest. Iraq quickly came up, and McCain said Americans should give Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, a chance to succeed.

"I believe that if we fail in Iraq, you will see chaos and genocide," McCain said.

The state Democratic Party criticized McCain for his support for the war, calling him "worse than Bush" in a statement.

After the speech, McCain was asked by an audience member if he was "sucking up to the religious right." He drew laughs by responding: "What's wrong with sucking up to everybody?"


Uncle Sam Wants YOU

Huffington Post
KD Friedman
Uncle Sam Wants YOU

President Bush, despite growing protests from Members of Congress of both parties, is calling for 21,000 more troops to be sent to the Hot Zone of Iraq. Better duck for cover all you gays, lesbians, transsexuals, bisexuals, intersexed, outer-sexed, over-sexed, whichever-sexed people. Because you're next. Uncle Sam will soon want YOU.

With Iraq descending into new depths of violence and chaos everyday, the military is having a hard enough time recruiting enough folks to meet its current demands -- let alone new soldiers.
So what's the overstretched military to do? I think it's only a matter of time -- probably moments -- before they rescind the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, recognizing that our community is filled with dare-deviling, hard-bodied potential recruits, many of whom have a fetish for uniforms. Soon the Bush Administration will ignore the pressure from its right wing evangelical base and recognize the inevitable: gays and lesbians are the only ones left to serve.

I can see it now, the Administration will create a new "Department for the Recruitment of Gays" which will be led by propaganda czar Karen Hughes who will be redeployed from her current job working to change the image of Americans in the Middle East (we've seen how effective she's been). She'll send out terse one-page memos throughout the military with talking points that say, "Gay men and lesbians etc. are strong and they're good for morale, despite what we've been saying for years. Compliment the men, flirt with the women. Gays and lesbians are so desperate for mainstream acceptance, they'll gladly respond. And we need these people. So be nice."

Next thing you know, gays in the military will be all the craze. We'll see National Guard posters on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village and in the Castro in San Francisco. The Army will start recruiting men in gay bars, sending in hundreds of buff guys with buzz cuts, unbuttoned uniforms and Calvin Klein ribbed briefs, blowing whistles, dancing to house music singing the old theme song, "You can be all you can be in the Army." Or riffing on the new slogan, "We're Army strong... we've got army Schlongs." And for the lesbians, the Marines will remix their anthem so the "Halls of Montezuma" sounds like a Thievery Club version of "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge.

And who knows, maybe the military -with instructions from Karen Hughes-- will start a new television show, "Queer Eye for the Shiites," with the premise that the U.S. government will send in hordes of gay men with great taste, and butch lesbians with tool belts, to help with the reconstruction effort in Baghdad -- recognizing that they'll do a far more efficient and much cheaper job than Halliburton.

And then all the Republican candidates supporting the war - flip-flopping Mitt Romney among them - will proclaim, "Gay is the Way toward Victory."

So when "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" comes tumbling down (which it will because it's a ludicrously unfair, unworkable policy) gays and lesbians and straight folks alike should say, "Hey until this unnecessary, hopeless war is over, we don't want to be part of this macho club." And when the Bush Administration realizes they're throwing a war party that no one wants to attend, then maybe they'll finally bring all the troops home. Because they will have no choice.


Iraq War Exacts Toll on Contractors

Iraq War Exacts Toll on Contractors

— In a largely invisible cost of the war in Iraq, nearly 800 civilians working under contract to the Pentagon have been killed and more than 3,300 hurt doing jobs normally handled by the U.S. military, according to figures gathered by The Associated Press.

Exactly how many of these employees doing the Pentagon's work are Americans is uncertain. But the casualty figures make it clear that the Defense Department's count of more than 3,100 U.S. military dead does not tell the whole story.

"It's another unseen expense of the war," said Thomas Houle, a retired Air Force reservist whose brother-in-law died while driving a truck in Iraq. "It's almost disrespectful that it doesn't get the kind of publicity or respect that a soldier would."

Employees of defense contractors such as Halliburton, Blackwater and Wackenhut cook meals, do laundry, repair infrastructure, translate documents, analyze intelligence, guard prisoners, protect military convoys, deliver water in the heavily fortified Green Zone and stand sentry at buildings _ often highly dangerous duties almost identical to those performed by many U.S. troops.

The insurgents in Iraq make little if any distinction between the contractors and U.S. troops.

In January, four contractors for Blackwater were killed when their helicopter was downed by gunfire in Baghdad. In 2004, two Americans and a British engineer were kidnapped and decapitated. That same year, a mob of insurgents ambushed a supply convoy escorted by contractors, burning and mutilating the guards' bodies and stringing up two of them from a bridge.

But when contractors are killed or wounded, the casualties are off the books, in a sense.

The Defense Department issues a press release whenever a soldier or Marine dies. The AP obtained figures on many of the civilian deaths and injuries from the Labor Department, which tracks workers' compensation claims, after repeated efforts including a Freedom of Information Act request.

By the end of 2006, the Labor Department had quietly recorded 769 deaths and 3,367 injuries serious enough to require four or more days off the job.

"It used to be, womb to tomb, the military took care of everything. We had cooks. We had people who ran recreation facilities. But those are not core competencies you need to run a war," said Brig. Gen. Neil Dial, deputy director of intelligence for U.S. Central Command.

With the all-volunteer force, the military began more stringent recruiting of troops and made greater use of nonmilitary professionals. "It puts professionals in harm's way," he conceded.

Although contractors were widely used in Vietnam for support and reconstruction tasks, they have never before represented such a large portion of the U.S. presence in a war zone or accounted for so many security and military-like jobs, experts say.

Some of the workers are former U.S. military personnel. Some are foreigners. The companies and the U.S. government say they do not keep track of how many are Americans.

The contractors are paid handsomely for the risks they take, with some making $100,000 or more per year, mostly tax-free _ at least six times more than a new Army private, a rank likely to be driving a truck or doing some other unskilled work.

The difference in pay can create ill will between the contractors and U.S. troops.

"When they are side by side doing the same job, there is some resentment," said Rick Saccone, who worked as an intelligence contractor in Baghdad for a year.

If the contractor deaths were added to the Pentagon's count of U.S. military casualties, the number of war dead would climb about 25 percent, from about 3,000 as of the end of 2006 to nearly 3,800.

If the contractors injured badly enough to be off the job for at least four days were added to the nearly 14,000 U.S. troops requiring medical air transport because of injuries, the injury total would rise by about the same percentage.

Early in the war, most of the casualties on the coalition side were military. But with the fall of Saddam Hussein, contractors flowed in behind the troops, and the number of deaths among the contract workers has been increasing each year.

Contractor deaths are less costly politically, said Deborah Avant, a political science professor at George Washington University.

"Every time there's a new thing that the U.S. government wants the military to do and there's not enough military to do it, contractors are hired," she said. "When we see the 3,000 service member deaths, there's probably an additional 1,000 deaths we don't see."

Houle's brother-in-law, Hector C. Patino, was driving a truck for a Halliburton subsidiary in the Green Zone when he was killed by friendly fire at an Australian checkpoint.

Patino, who served two tours in Vietnam, thought he was safe, said his mother, 82-year-old Flora Patino.

"I said, `Hector, you're playing with fire,'" she recalled.


Associated Press writer Elizabeth White in San Antonio and Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.


New Airport X-Rays Scan Bodies, Not Just Bags

The New York Times
New Airport X-Rays Scan Bodies, Not Just Bags

PHOENIX, Feb. 23 — X-ray vision has come to the airport checkpoint here, courtesy of federal aviation security officials who have installed a new device that peeks underneath passengers’ clothing to search for guns, bombs or liquid explosives.

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
The X-ray image before software was used to blur bodily contours.

The new body scanning machine, which went into use on Friday at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and will be tested later at airports in Los Angeles and New York, will screen only volunteers, at least initially. Transportation Security Administration officials want to make sure the machine is reliable and fast enough to replace the traditional pat-down — and that it does not provoke too many protests.

Security officials examining the head-to-toe images work in a closed booth, hidden from public view, agency officials said. Special “privacy” software intentionally blurs the image, creating an outline of a body that is clear enough to see a collarbone, bellybutton or weapon, but flattens details of revealing contours.

Kenneth Johnson, 64, of Mesa, was the first passenger screened on Friday in Phoenix. He said he had titanium implants in both shoulders and one knee that set off alarms at checkpoint metal detectors.

“I’ve been all over the world; I’ve been strip-searched,” Mr. Johnson, who was traveling to Florida, told an Associated Press reporter. “This was very easy.”

Others found the scans objectionable.

“I think that is a violation of people’s personal rights,” said Kara Neal, 36, a mental health counselor on her way to Philadelphia. She was not asked to undergo the screening, but said she would have refused. “I would rather take a pat-down than go through this,” she said.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union have raised similar objections, calling the X-ray scan a “virtual strip-search,” and have urged Congress to prohibit its use for routine screening.

The vending-machine-size device, which costs about $110,000, will be used only when passengers are pulled aside for a more thorough check, known as secondary screening, after passing through a metal detector. Other scanning machines will be installed this year at Los Angeles International Airport and at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

While security agency officials say the machines, known as SmartCheck, pose no health hazards, some experts disagree. The machine, manufactured by American Science and Engineering Inc. of Billerica, Mass., generates about as much radiation as a passenger would get flying for about two minutes at about 30,000 feet, or in technical terms, fewer than 10 microRem per scan, according to security agency and company officials. The machine is already being used in some prisons, by United States customs and at Heathrow Airport in London.

Dr. Albert J. Fornace Jr., an expert in molecular oncology at Georgetown University Medical Center, said such a low dose was inconsequential, even for pregnant women.

“Obviously, no radiation is even better than even a very low level,” Dr. Fornace said. “But this is trivial.”

But David J. Brenner, a professor of radiation oncology at Columbia University, said that even though the risk for any individual was extremely low, he would still avoid it.

“The question is, Do you want to add to your already existing risk?” Professor Brenner said, recommending that pregnant women and young children, in particular, avoid the device. “There are other technologies around that can probably do the job just as well without the extra radiation.”

The machine beams a low-energy X-ray at the passenger, which after it bounces off the surface of the skin is processed by computer software that highlights metals or elements like nitrogen that are found in explosives or weapons.

The X-ray is not strong enough to penetrate much beyond the skin, so it cannot find weapons that may be hidden in body cavities.

“A lot of people aren’t really comfortable with a pat-down,” said Ellen Howe, a security agency spokeswoman, “so they may find this to be an alternative they may appreciate.” She added that the X-ray images would be destroyed immediately.

Aviation security officials are rushing to bring new screening devices to airports because of the London-based plot last summer to use liquid explosives to blow up airliners headed to the United States.

The devices now used at the nation’s airports, the X-ray machine for carry-on bags and the metal detector for passengers, rely on 1950s-era technology that cannot reliably detect liquid or plastic explosives.

Earlier efforts by the federal security agency to introduce more advanced checkpoint technologies have stumbled, including the so-called puffer machines, which blow air on passengers to search for minute traces of explosives.

After installing 94 of the machines at 37 airports, officials suspended the program last year, saying the devices broke down too often. More puffer machines may be bought if the problems can be resolved.

Officials intend to try other alternatives, like a so-called millimeter wave machine that uses harmless radio waves, instead of X-rays, to do a full body scan.

Ms. Howe said that until the tests on the SmartCheck were complete, it was unclear how widely used the machines would be. “We are committed to testing it,” she said. “But we are not committed to deploying it widely until we learn more.”


Friday, February 23, 2007

Status of Coalition Forces in Iraq

Status of Coalition Forces in Iraq
Associated Press

A look at the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq:

ALBANIA: 120 non-combat troops, mainly patrolling airport in Mosul; no plans to withdraw.

ARMENIA: 46 soldiers, serving as medics, engineers and transport drivers, serving under Polish command; mission extended to end of 2007.

AUSTRALIA: 550 troops helping to train security forces in two southern Iraqi provinces.

AZERBAIJAN: 150 troops, mostly serving as sentries, on patrols and protecting dam near city of Hadid; no plans to withdraw.

BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: Bosnia has 36 soldiers - including three teams of 10 officers and a command team of six - in Iraq.

BRITAIN: 7,100 troops in southern Iraq; Prime Minister Tony Blair announced plans to reduce force by 1,600 in the coming months.

BULGARIA: 155 in total, including 120 non-combat troops guarding refugee camp north of Baghdad and 35 support personnel.

CZECH REPUBLIC: 99 troops.

DENMARK: 460 troops patrolling Basra; to be withdrawn by August.

EL SALVADOR: 380 soldiers doing peacekeeping and humanitarian work in southern city of Kut; no immediate plans to withdraw.

ESTONIA: 35 troops serving under U.S. command in the Baghdad area.

GEORGIA: About 900 combat forces, medics and support personnel serving under U.S. command in Baqouba; no plans to withdraw or reduce contingent.

KAZAKHSTAN: 27 military engineers; no plans to withdraw.

LATVIA: 125 troops are serving under Polish command in Diwaniyah.

LITHUANIA: 53 troops are part of a Danish battalion near Basra. A government spokeswoman said it is "seriously considering" not replacing the contingent when its mission ends in August.

MACEDONIA: 40 troops in Taji, north of Baghdad.

MOLDOVA: 11 bomb-defusing experts returned home at end of January; parliament has not yet decided on sending a new mission.

MONGOLIA: 160 troops; no plans to withdraw.

NETHERLANDS: 15 soldiers as part of NATO mission training police, army officers; no plans to withdraw.

POLAND: 900 non-combat troops; commands multinational force south of Baghdad; mission extended to end of 2007.

ROMANIA: About 600 troops, most serving in the south under British command, with the rest - a few dozen military intelligence officers - serving north of Baghdad; Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu wants them withdrawn.

SLOVENIA: Four instructors training Iraqi security forces.

SOUTH KOREA: 2,300 troops in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil; plans to bring home 1,100 by April and parliament insists on a plan for a complete withdrawal by end of 2007.

UNITED STATES: Approximately 140,000 troops.


Why We're Staying in Iraq
Why We're Staying in Iraq
The Petraeus plan will have U.S. forces deployed in Iraq for years to come. Does anybody running for president realize that?
By Michael Hirsh

Feb. 22, 2007 - The British are leaving, the Iraqis are failing and the Americans are staying—and we’re going to be there a lot longer than anyone in Washington is acknowledging right now. As Democrats and Republicans back home try to outdo each other with quick-fix plans for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and funds, what few people seem to have noticed is that Gen. David Petraeus’s new “surge” plan is committing U.S. troops, day by day, to a much deeper and longer-term role in policing Iraq than since the earliest days of the U.S. occupation. How long must we stay under the Petraeus plan? Perhaps 10 years. At least five. In any case, long after George W. Bush has returned to Crawford, Texas, for good.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m merely a messenger for a coterie of counterinsurgency experts who have helped to design the Petraeus plan—his so-called “dream team”—and who have discussed it with NEWSWEEK, usually on condition of anonymity, owing to the sensitivity of the subject. To a degree little understood by the U.S. public, Petraeus is engaged in a giant “do-over.” It is a near-reversal of the approach taken by Petraeus’s predecessor as commander of multinational forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, until the latter was relieved in early February, and most other top U.S. commanders going back to Rick Sanchez and Tommy Franks. Casey sought to accelerate both the training of Iraqi forces and American withdrawal. By 2008, the remaining 60,000 or so U.S. troops were supposed to be hunkering down in four giant “superbases,” where they would be relatively safe. Under Petraeus’s plan, a U.S. military force of 160,000 or more is setting up hundreds of “mini-forts” all over Baghdad and the rest of the country, right in the middle of the action. The U.S. Army has also stopped pretending that Iraqis—who have failed to build a credible government, military or police force on their own—are in the lead when it comes to kicking down doors and keeping the peace. And that means the future of Iraq depends on the long-term presence of U.S. forces in a way it did not just a few months ago. “We’re putting down roots,” says Philip Carter, a former U.S. Army captain who returned last summer from a year of policing and training in the hot zone around Baquba. “The Americans are no longer willing to accept failure in order to put Iraqis in the lead. You can’t let the mission fail just for the sake of diplomacy.”

Many U.S. military experts now believe that, if there is any hope of stabilizing Iraq, the Petraeus plan is the only way to do it. The critical question now, they say, is whether we have anywhere near enough troops committed to the effort, and whether America has the political will to see the strategy through to the end.

“This is the right strategy: small mini-packets of U.S. troops all over, small ‘oil spots’ [of stability] spreading out. It’s classic counterinsurgency,” says one of the Army’s top experts in irregular warfare, who helped draft the counterinsurgency manual that Petraeus produced while commander at Fort Leavenworth last year—the principles of which the general is applying to Iraq. “But it’s high risk and it’s going to take a long time.”

How long? At his confirmation hearings in January, Petraeus was asked by Sen. Ted Kennedy about a timetable for the surge plan. "I can't give you dates at this time," he said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates was only slightly more specific at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 11. "I don't think anybody has a definite idea about how long the surge would last," he said. "I think for most of us, in our minds, we're thinking of it as a matter of months, not 18 months or two years." A White House spokeswoman said Thursday she could find no record that the president, National-Security Adviser Stephen Hadley or any senior administration official had volunteered anything more specific than that. But the Army expert in irregular warfare notes that insurgencies take on average 10 years to defeat. And while technically we’re about four years into this one, the Pentagon was in such denial for so long about confronting the Iraqi insurgency—and wasted time on so many errant alternatives—that America may be at square one in fighting it, or possibly even “in negative numbers,” this expert says.

The Petraeus plan returns U.S. troops to the role they played in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion (although back then there was no partnering with Iraqis at all). Paul Rieckhoff, a former U.S. Army reservist and the author of “Chasing Ghosts,” a harshly critical look at the Iraq war, says he is disheartened that Petraeus is moving his troops back into the same turf that Rieckhoff’s Third Infantry Division Brigade, under Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, controlled in 2003. The Dempsey approach to U.S.-led policing was similar to Petraeus’s, but it was abandoned in early 2004. “The 82nd Airborne is now returning to the area of Adamiyah [a neighborhood in central Baghdad] we left in 2004,” Rieckhoff says. As a result of all the lost time, the anonymous irregular warfare expert worries about “whether we have the support of the American people for the multiyear commitment it will take,” adding: “This is how great powers lose small wars.”

America’s political will may depend, in turn, on whether the casualty rate stays the same—or goes even higher, as is likely for a time. An attack on a U.S. outpost north of Baghdad on Monday highlighted some of the hazards of the new approach. Insurgents sent suicide vehicles into an abandoned police station manned by a small contingent of U.S. troops, killing two American soldiers. “The troops are certainly more vulnerable than they are on super bases,” says John Arquilla, who teaches irregular warfare at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. “The mission now is less force protection of American troops and more protection of the Iraqi people.”

Yet like two planets spinning away from each other in different orbits, the Petraeus plan developing on the ground and the Iraq debate generating headlines back home seem to be disconnected, increasingly so. On Wednesday, most of the Democratic candidates for president gathered in Carson City, Nev., and pitched their various schemes for capping funds for the war and thus forcing at least a partial U.S. withdrawal. Back on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw her support behind a proposed bill by Rep. John Murtha that would reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq by requiring troops to spend one year at home between deployments, among other provisions for readiness.

Can any of these efforts succeed, when the highly esteemed Petraeus will be making regular visits to the Hill pleading for more time? Phil Carter, who is also a lawyer, believes the congressional efforts to cut off Petraeus will fall flat—although he’s also skeptical that the general’s plan can work without several hundred thousand more troops, which Congress is highly unlikely to authorize. “I just don’t see Congress stepping up and drawing a line in the sand,” he says. The analogy one hears most often is to the end of the Vietnam War, when Congress cut off aid to the South Vietnamese government. But Carter believes that comparison is a false one. “The myth on Vietnam is that Congress did it, but by the time they did Nixon had pulled out all the U.S. troops anyway,” he says. “This is different.”

Even so, because the Petraeus plan will likely extend well into the next presidency, much will depend on the views and actions of whoever is elected in 2008. Ultimately, if we do withdraw prematurely, we may end up doing what embattled British Prime Minister Tony Blair has just announced he's doing in the southern Iraqi city of Basra: declare victory (though there is scant evidence of one), and go home. But not if Dave Petraeus and his dream team can help it.


Long Iraq Tours Can Make Home a Trying Front

The New York Times
Long Iraq Tours Can Make Home a Trying Front

In the nearly two years Cpl. John Callahan of the Army was away from home, his wife, he said, had two extramarital affairs. She failed to pay his credit card bills. And their two children were sent to live with her parents as their home life deteriorated.

Then, in November, his machine gun malfunctioned during a firefight, wounding him in the groin and ravaging his left leg. When his wife reached him by phone after an operation in Germany, Corporal Callahan could barely hear her. Her boyfriend was shouting too loudly in the background.

“Haven’t you told him it’s over?” Corporal Callahan, 42, recalled the man saying. “That you aren’t wearing his wedding ring anymore?”

For Corporal Callahan, who is recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and so many other soldiers and family members, the repercussions, chaos and loneliness of wartime deployments are one of the toughest, least discussed byproducts of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and loved ones have endured long, sometimes repeated separations that test the fragility of their relationships in unforeseen ways.

The situation is likely to grow worse as the military increases the number of troops in Iraq in coming months. The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it was planning to send more than 14,000 National Guard troops back to Iraq next year, causing widespread concern among reservists. Nearly a third of the troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have done more than one tour of duty.

Most families and soldiers cope, sometimes heroically. But these separations have also left a trail of badly strained or broken unions, many severed by adultery or sexual addictions; burdened spouses, some of whom are reaching for antidepressants; financial turmoil brought on by rising debts, lost wages and overspending; emotionally bruised children whose grades sometimes plummet; and anxious parents who at times turn on each other.

Hardest hit are the reservists and their families, who never bargained on long absences, sometimes as long as 18 months, and who lack the support network of full-fledged members of the military.

“Since my husband has been gone, I have potty-trained two kids, my oldest started preschool, a kid learned to walk and talk, plus the baby is not sleeping that well,” said Lori Jorgenson, 30, whose husband, a captain in the Minnesota National Guard, has been deployed since November 2005 and recently had his tour extended another four months. “I am very burnt out.”

In the next couple of months, Ms. Jorgenson, who has three young children, has to get a loan, buy a house and move out of their apartment.

Even many active-duty military families, used to the difficulties of deployments, are reeling as soldiers are being sent again and again to war zones, with only the smallest pause in between. The unrelenting fear of death or injury, mental health problems, the lack of recuperative downtime between deployments and the changes that await when a soldier comes home hover over every household.

And unlike the Vietnam era, when the draft meant that many people were directly touched by the conflict, this period finds military families feeling a keen sense of isolation from the rest of society. Not many Americans have a direct connection to the war or the military. Only 1.4 million people, or less than 1 percent of the American population, serve in the active-duty military.

“Prior to 9/11, the deployments were not wartime related,” said Kristin Henderson, a military spouse whose husband served as a Navy chaplain in Iraq and Afghanistan and whose recent book “While They’re at War” explores the impact of today’s deployments. “There were separation issues, but there was no anticipatory grief and no fear and no medical overload.”

It is common for spouses to wind up on antidepressants, Ms. Henderson said, a situation made worse by the repeat deployments. The more deployments, the less time that families have to mend before the stress sets in again, she added.

Ms. Henderson recalled having a panic attack in church while her husband was away and crying in the shower most mornings so no one would see her. “The common misconception,” she said, “is that the more you do this, the better you get. That is not true.”

Some relationships grow stronger as distance and sacrifice help bring into sharp focus what is important. Before Robert Johnson’s deployments to Iraq with the North Carolina Army National Guard, he and his wife, Dawn, faced difficult decisions about how to care for their seven children, including four living at home. They decided their two severely disabled teenage twin sons would be best cared for elsewhere, one in a group home, the other with grandparents.

But Ms. Johnson, 41, who works full time at a pharmacy, said she felt there had been an upside to the ordeal. “Now I know,” she said, “that I can pretty much survive anything.”

Other marriages, especially young marriages rushed by deployment, may have been destined to fail from the start.

Seeking Help

As the war stretches into its fourth year, more troops and their families are reaching out for help, turning to family therapists and counselors. The Army and the Marines, partly in response to a jump in the number of divorces and a rise in domestic violence reports, have created programs to help couples cope, including seminars and family weekend retreats. The Army has also improved the family readiness groups that often serve as a lifeline for spouses.

Divorces, which had hovered in the 2 percent to 3 percent range for the Army since 2000, spiked in 2004 to 6 percent among officers and 3.6 percent among enlisted personnel. The rate for officers dropped to 2.1 percent in 2006, but the rate for enlisted personnel has stayed level, at 3.6 percent.

Married women are having the hardest time. The divorce rate for women in the Army in 2006 was 7.9 percent, the highest since 2000, compared with 2.6 percent for men.

Demand for counseling has grown so quickly among military families and returning soldiers that the military has begun contracting out more services to private therapists. Reservists must rely largely on networks of volunteers.

“For a while a lot of soldiers coming back were not being seen because there was such an overload of patients and so few mental health providers on base,” said Carl Settles, a psychologist and retired Army colonel who runs a practice near Fort Hood, Tex.

The military recently called him to ask how many of several hundred patients he could take on, Dr. Settles said.

Corporal Callahan, who is on the brink of divorce, said his marriage, his second, had been troubled before his deployment but became unsalvageable once he shipped out. His deployment also forced him to transfer guardianship of his children temporarily to their grandparents because of problems at home, he said.

His injury, which has left him unable to walk, has now complicated his chances of remaining in the Army. “I felt like I had hit bottom,” he said. “I had so much bitterness in me. I have been so angry. So many nights I have cried and tried to figure out what I can do and what I can’t do.”

Capt. Lance Oliver, Corporal Callahan’s commander in Iraq, said he kept close track of Corporal Callahan’s personal situation, and while disintegrating marriages are not uncommon, Captain Oliver said, Corporal Callahan’s was the most dramatic.

“I can’t think of one that is more heartwrenching,” he said.

Spouses’ Secrets

Extramarital affairs, hardly rare in other wars, are also a fixture now.

David Hernandez, who is in the Army and is based in Fort Hood, said his relationship with his wife of 10 years crumbled between his second and third deployments. She was frazzled and lonely, he said, with two children to care for; he came back moodier, quieter and more distant. Now his wife is living with another man, Mr. Hernandez said in e-mail messages from Iraq. He, in turn, has started a relationship with a female soldier, despite his hope for reconciliation.

“It was very stressful for her doing everything and worrying about me,” he said, adding, “I spent so much time away; it drove us apart to seek other relationships.”

“Now I’m back out here,” he said. “I feel helpless. What can I do? It makes it a little easier being with someone out here. Temptation was the hardest, and I gave in.”

Dr. Settles sees about 40 soldiers a week in private practice and says a majority of soldiers cope well. But those with problems feel them deeply.

“Infidelity and financial issues are major issues,” Dr. Settles said, adding that there are abundant cases of wives who clear out their husband’s bank accounts or soldiers who come home and go binge shopping. “Even a good mule needs a few oats once in a while,” he said. “ Some of these guys, they are kind of at their limit.”

Some therapists say they are bracing for this year’s divorces. Mary Coe, a marriage and family therapist working near Fort Campbell, an Army base on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee, said she was seeing “many, many divorces” right now. The 101st Airborne Division recently returned from its second deployment with an astonishing level of rage, she said. “Now we are seeing 15- to 20-year marriages not making it, and these are families that survived 20 years of deployments,” Dr. Coe said.

Lei Steivers, whose husband is a senior noncommissioned officer at Fort Campbell, has been a military wife for 25 years. But it took her husband’s second yearlong deployment to Iraq to cripple their marriage. They are now in counseling. A family leader on the base, Ms. Steivers, 46, also has two sons in the military. She said a number of men she knows came home last year for rest and relaxation and demanded a divorce.

Many spouses, she said, blame the presence of women alongside combat units. The blame may be misplaced, but the anxiety is not.

“They are side-by-side fixing an engine, the girls live upstairs, the guys live downstairs,” Ms. Steivers said. “We are just more and more in awe, saying, What is going on?”

Some wives have uncovered their husband’s pornographic pictures on Web sites like MySpace, she said, adding, “I’ve seen them because the wives show them to me.”

Dr. Coe said she had been surprised by the number of soldiers who had come home and sought counseling for sexual addictions fueled by DVD’s and Internet pornography.

While pornography is blocked by the United States military in Iraq, service members gain access to it with laptops through their own Internet service providers, Corporal Callahan said.

At the same time, spouses back home sometimes hook up with men on the Internet. When the relationship surfaces, it sometimes leads to violence, said Robert Weiss, who co-wrote “Untangling the Web,” a book about Internet pornography, and who has been hired as a consultant by military family groups looking for guidance.

Family Trumps All Else

For some spouses, concerns about infidelity take a back seat to the demands of a household. Lillian Connolly’s husband of 21 years, a staff sergeant in the Army Reserve in Massachusetts who now works at a Lowe’s Home Improvement, was sent to Iraq twice. The first deployment, in 2003, lasted 11 months. The second one, for which he volunteered, was much harder on the family. Even before his father’s second deployment, the couple’s 12-year-old started having tantrums. When his father left their home in 2005, the boy started to misbehave at school, Ms. Connolly said. He and his sister were the only children with a deployed parent, and the school, she said, was mostly unsympathetic. If anything, Ms. Connolly said, she got the blame.

“He really worried about his dad every day,” Ms. Connolly said of her son. “They couldn’t understand he had an anger problem because his dad was gone.

“That was more stressful and harder to deal with than my husband being gone.”

Mary Keller, the executive director of the Military Child Education Coalition, a private nonprofit group that helps children and schools cope, said two million children had experienced deployments. Worst hit are those in schools that are isolated from military culture.

“It is highly likely that the teacher doesn’t have a personal experience with the military,” Dr. Keller said.

At home, spouses say, they try to keep their young children connected to their deployed parents. Ms. Jorgenson lets her three children pull Skittles out of a bowl to mark the passage of time. She buys them surprise gifts from their father, like boxes of Fruity Pebbles or camouflage sheets. Meanwhile, she thinks, “Will I ever get through bath time and get them to bed without screaming and losing my patience?”

Parents of young soldiers often appear the most tormented, counselors say, especially if opposed to the enlistment. There are also few resources for them.

“Mothers are in worse shape than wives,” said Jaine Darwin, a psychoanalyst and co-director of Strategic Outreach to Families of All Reservists, a volunteer group that offers counseling to military families in many states. “Mom is not allowed to cry. And that is certainly a problem.”

Esther Gallagher, 50, who works in a counseling office at a high school in Goodrich, Minn., has two sons in Iraq. She worries about both but frets most about her youngest, Justin, 22, a gunner who has seen a lot of violence in Falluja. He joined the Minnesota Army National Guard and has spent most of the past three years on deployment; the last tour was recently extended, which angered his mother and disheartened the soldiers in his unit.

When Sergeant Gallagher came home for two weeks last year, he walked out of the room any time anyone talked about Iraq.

“Every day, they are in harm’s way,” Ms. Gallagher said, her voice quavering. “I mean, that’s your baby — to have him out there in harm’s way, and not knowing. Your life has been to protect these kids.”


Chlorine bombs mark new guerrilla tactics

Chlorine bombs mark new guerrilla tactics: U.S
By Claudia Parsons

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A top U.S. general said on Thursday insurgents in Iraq were using crude chemical bombs in a new campaign to create instability, as U.S. and Iraqi forces stepped up a security crackdown in Baghdad.

Two bombs with chlorine gas have killed up to 11 people this week. The blasts, one in Baghdad and the other north of the capital, caused toxic fumes that have made scores more sick.

"What they're trying to do is ... adapt in such ways where they can continue to create instability," Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno, day-to-day commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, told reporters at the Pentagon in a live link-up.

"That's what they're doing, especially with these chlorine IEDs (improvised explosive devices)," he said, adding U.S. forces had found chlorine cylinders in a car bomb factory near the rebellious western city of Falluja on Tuesday.

Chlorine gas was used as a weapon in World War One but its use in guerrilla attacks in Iraq has particular resonance for Iraqis. Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on Kurdish areas in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.

President Bush is sending 21,500 more troops to Iraq in an effort to drive militants out of Baghdad and to try to stabilize Anbar province, heart of the Sunni Arab insurgency. U.S. forces in Iraq number some 141,000.

In the city of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, U.S. forces killed at least 12 insurgents and wounded three others in a six-hour clash involving air strikes, the U.S. military said.

Residents in Ramadi said three buildings were destroyed. A civil defense official and an ambulance driver, both of whom declined to be identified, said as many as 26 people were killed, including some women and children.

A Reuters photographer saw the bodies of an infant and a young boy. The battle started on Wednesday evening.

"We have no reports of civilian casualties and there were no coalition casualties," said Lieutenant Shawn Mercer, a spokesman for U.S. Marines operating in western Iraq.


U.S. and Iraqi troops were on alert as Iraq marked the anniversary of the bombing of a Shi'ite Muslim shrine in the city of Samarra that unleashed a wave of sectarian violence and pushed the country to the brink of all-out civil war.

There were no major attacks but sectarian tension was fueled by accusations from a woman in the northern city of Tal Afar that members of Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated forces raped her.

The allegations came two days after a 20-year-old Sunni Arab woman in Baghdad accused police of raping her, sparking a political furor that bared bitter sectarian divisions between Iraq's majority Shi'ites and Sunnis, once-dominant under Saddam.

The leader of al Qaeda's wing in Iraq vowed militants would avenge the Sunni woman's alleged rape, according to an audio tape posted on the Internet on Thursday.

The speaker, identified as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, said more than 300 militants had asked to go on suicide missions after hearing reports of the rape.

A police source said three people were killed in a bomb attack in Baghdad on Wednesday in which chlorine gas was used, and that 35 others were taken to hospital. An Interior Ministry source said six were killed and 73 wounded or made ill.

"We were in the shops working when all of a sudden it exploded and we saw yellow fumes. Everybody was suffocating," one man, who declined to be named, told Reuters TV.

On Tuesday, a truck rigged with explosives blew up north of Baghdad, killing at least five people and releasing a cloud of chlorine gas that made nearly 140 others sick, police said.

Odierno said at the car bomb factory near Falluja U.S. forces found vehicles in various stages of preparation to be used as bombs, as well as materials to devise or enhance explosives such as fertilizer and chlorine cylinders.

He said U.S. forces hunting insurgents responsible for shooting down U.S. helicopters had detained two members of a militant cell. He gave no other details.

On Wednesday, insurgents shot down a Black Hawk helicopter with nine people on board north of Baghdad. No one was killed. It was the eighth helicopter to go down in Iraq in a month.

(Additional reporting by Aseel Kami, Ross Colvin and Ibon Villelabeitia in Baghdad and Kristin Roberts in Washington)


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pentagon Plans To Cut Leave Time For 14,000 Guard Troops and send them back to Iraq

The New York Times
National Guard May Undertake Iraq Duty Early

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 — The Pentagon is planning to send more than 14,000 National Guard troops back to Iraq next year, shortening their time between deployments to meet the demands of President Bush’s buildup, Defense Department officials said Wednesday.

National Guard officials told state commanders in Arkansas, Indiana, Oklahoma and Ohio last month that while a final decision had not been made, units from their states that had done previous tours in Iraq and Afghanistan could be designated to return to Iraq next year between January and June, the officials said.

The unit from Oklahoma, a combat brigade with one battalion currently in Afghanistan, had not been scheduled to go back to Iraq until 2010, and brigades from the other three states not until 2009. Each brigade has about 3,500 soldiers.

The accelerated timetable illustrates the cascading effect that the White House plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq by more than 21,000 is putting on the entire Army and in particular on Reserve forces, which officers predicted would face severe challenges in recruiting, training and equipping their forces.

It also highlights the political risks of the White House’s Iraq strategy. Sending large numbers of reservists to Iraq in the middle of next year’s election campaign could drive up casualties among part-time soldiers in communities where support for the administration’s approach in Iraq is already tenuous, according to opinion polls.

A final decision on whether the additional Guard units will be required next year in Iraq will not be made for months, the officials said, and the full extent of the Guard role next year will depend on whether the situation in Iraq improves in the meantime.

It has been clear since Mr. Bush announced his plan last month that additional reservists could be required in Iraq, but the numbers and the identity of the specific units involved had not been previously disclosed.

Changing the reservists’ schedules means abandoning previous promises that they would get several years between deployments. And the acceleration means that soldiers who usually drill just once a month and for a few weeks in the summer will have to begin intensive preparations right away.

“We’re behind the power curve, and we can’t piddle around,” Maj. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, said in an interview. He added that one-third of his soldiers lacked the M-4 rifles preferred by active-duty soldiers and that there were also shortfalls in night vision goggles and other equipment. If his unit is going to be sent to Iraq next year, he said, “We expect the Army to resource the Guard at the same level as active-duty units.”

He also noted that one of the brigade’s battalions that could deploy to Iraq next year was now in Afghanistan and was not scheduled to return until April, which would leave its soldiers with just over a year at home before having to leave for Iraq in June 2008. He said discussions were under way with top Army officials about providing necessary equipment and extra compensation for reservists in the Oklahoma Guard’s 45th Brigade Combat Team if the unit was sent back to Iraq two years earlier than planned.

Capt. Christopher Heathscott, a spokesman for the Arkansas National Guard, said the state’s 39th Brigade Combat Team was 600 rifles short for its 3,500 soldiers and also lacked its full arsenal of mortars and howitzers.

Of particular concern, he said, is the possibility that the prospects of going to Iraq next year could cause some Arkansas reservists not to re-enlist this year. Over the next year roughly one-third of the soldiers in the 39th will have their enlistment contracts expire or be eligible for retirement, Captain Heathscott said.

Guard and Reserve units were used most extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004, and have regularly supplied brigades throughout the fighting. The reinforcements now heading for Iraq will raise the number of combat brigades now in Iraq, only one of which is a Guard unit, to around 20 total. Thousands of additional Reserve support troops would also be required sooner, officials said.

To draw more heavily on Reserve units, the Bush administration announced in January that it was revising rules that limited call-ups of Guard members. The previous policy limited mobilization of Guard members to 24 months every five years, but prolonged and large deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan led the Pentagon to abandon that rule.

The new guidelines allow units that have already been deployed in the last five years to be called up again, but the Pentagon has said that it will try to limit the total time Guard units are mobilized to a year, instead of the current year and a half to two years.

Given that they would be in Iraq for about nine months, that would leave only three months for training before they go. In the past, six months of training has been the norm before heading to the war zone.

To make up the difference, officials said the soldiers would get more part-time training, close to home, before being mobilized. That would cut the time they have to spend away from their jobs and families, Captain Heathscott said.


Cheney continues to attack those who wish to bring our troops home safely and soon as unpatriotic

Yahoo! News
Cheney slams Iraq plan advocated by Dems

By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent

Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday harshly criticized Democrats' attempts to thwart President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq, saying their approach would "validate the al-Qaida strategy." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record) fired back that Cheney was questioning critics' patriotism.

"I hope the president will repudiate and distance himself from the vice president's remarks," Pelosi said. She said she tried to complain about Cheney to President Bush but could not reach him.

"You cannot say as the president of the United States, 'I welcome disagreement in a time of war,' and then have the vice president of the United States go out of the country and mischaracterize a position of the speaker of the House and in a manner that says that person in that position of authority is acting against the national security of our country," the speaker said.

The quarrel began in Tokyo, where Cheney used an interview to criticize Pelosi and Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), D-Pa., over their plan to place restrictions on Bush's request for an additional $93 billion for the Iraq war to make it difficult or impossible to send 21,500 extra troops to Iraq.

"I think if we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all we will do is validate the al-Qaida strategy," the vice president told ABC News. "The al-Qaida strategy is to break the will of the American people ... try to persuade us to throw in the towel and come home, and then they win because we quit."

In the interview, Cheney also said Britain's plans to withdraw about 1,600 troops from Iraq — while the United States adds more troops — was a positive step. "I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well," the vice president said.

Pelosi, at a news conference in San Francisco, said Cheney's criticism of Democrats was "beneath the dignity of the debate we're engaged in and a disservice to our men and women in uniform, whom we all support."

"And you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to call the president and tell him I disapprove of what the vice president said," Pelosi said. "It has no place in our debate." Bush had previously urged her to call him when a member of his administration stepped over the line by questioning Democrats' patriotism, she said.

Later, Pelosi said she had tried to reach the president but was only able to get through to White House chief of staff Josh Bolten.

Bolten said he was certain no one was questioning her patriotism or commitment to national security, she told reporters.

"I said to him perhaps when he saw what the vice president said he might have another comment," Pelosi said. White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said Cheney "was not questioning anyone's patriotism." But she said Bush and Cheney believe that Pelosi and Murtha's "position to immediately pull out our troops would be harmful to our national security and that it is the wrong strategy to pursue."

As for Cheney's assertion that the partial British pullout is a sign that things are going well in Iraq, Pelosi said: "If it's going so well, we'd like to withdraw our troops as well."

Sen. Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, said Britain's withdrawal, coupled with a Denmark's announcement to pull out its 460 troops by August, "accelerates the breakup of the coalition in Iraq."

He said the United States should reduce its forces "as a way of pressuring the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future and to reach the political settlements that are essential to end the sectarian violence and defeat the insurgency."

Administration leaders, however, said Britain's decision was good news.

"The British have done what is really the plan for the country as a whole, which is to transfer security responsibility to the Iraqis as the situation permits," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a news conference in Berlin, where she was in meetings on the Mideast peace process.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, said the decision "reflects the progress that has been made on the ground in Basra and in the south," where British troops were stationed.

"So this is basically a good news story, an indication that progress is being made, and that events on the ground permit this kind of adjustment in forces," Hadley said. Still, he acknowledged the violence in Baghdad and said, "I'm not saying this is an unalloyed picture of progress."


Associated Press writer Scott Lindlaw contributed to this report from San Francisco.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Australia to ban old-style bulbs

Yahoo! News
Australia to ban old-style bulbs
By ROHAN SULLIVAN, Associated Press Writer

The Australian government on Tuesday announced plans to phase out incandescent light bulbs and replace them with more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs across the country.

Legislation to gradually restrict the sale of the old-style bulbs could reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 4 million tons by 2012 and cut household power bills by up to 66 percent, said Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Australia produced almost 565 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2004, official figures show.

Prime Minister John Howard said the plan would help all Australians play a part in cutting harmful gas emissions: "Here's something practical that everybody will participate in."

In incandescent light bulbs, perfected for mass use by Thomas A. Edison in the late 19th century, electricity flows through a filament to create light. Much of the energy, however, is wasted in the form of heat.

Australia is not the only place looking to replace them with fluorescent lighting, which is more efficient and longer lasting.

Last month, a California assemblyman announced he would propose a bill to ban the use of incandescent bulbs in his state. And a New Jersey lawmaker has called for the state to switch to fluorescent lighting in government buildings within three years.

Cuba's Fidel Castro launched a similar program two years ago, sending youth brigades into homes and switching out regular bulbs for energy-saving ones to help battle electrical blackouts around the island.

The idea was later embraced by Castro's friend and ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who announced his own program to save energy and in recent months has given away millions of incandescent bulbs in neighborhoods nationwide.

Under the Australian plan, bulbs that do not comply with energy efficiency targets would be gradually banned from sale. Exemptions may apply for special needs such as medical lighting and oven lights.

Fluorescent bulbs are currently more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but use only about 20 percent of the power to produce the same amount of light and last longer, making them more competitive over time, advocates argue.

Environmentalists welcomed the light bulb plan, but noted than the vast bulk of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions come from industry, such as coal-fired power stations.

They urged the government to set national targets for emission reductions and renewable energy.

"It is a good, positive step. But it is a very small step. It needs to be followed through with a lot of different measures," Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Josh Meadows told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Howard has become a global warming convert, conceding in recent months for the first time that human activity is having an effect on rising temperatures.

But he has steadfastly refused to bring Australia into line with most of the world and ratify the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gas reductions, arguing that doing so could damage Australia's coal-dependent economy.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility
Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility
By Dana Priest and Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writers

Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.

This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.

They suffer from brain injuries, severed arms and legs, organ and back damage, and various degrees of post-traumatic stress. Their legions have grown so exponentially -- they outnumber hospital patients at Walter Reed 17 to 1 -- that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. The average stay is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years.

Not all of the quarters are as bleak as Duncan's, but the despair of Building 18 symbolizes a larger problem in Walter Reed's treatment of the wounded, according to dozens of soldiers, family members, veterans aid groups, and current and former Walter Reed staff members interviewed by two Washington Post reporters, who spent more than four months visiting the outpatient world without the knowledge or permission of Walter Reed officials. Many agreed to be quoted by name; others said they feared Army retribution if they complained publicly.

While the hospital is a place of scrubbed-down order and daily miracles, with medical advances saving more soldiers than ever, the outpatients in the Other Walter Reed encounter a messy bureaucratic battlefield nearly as chaotic as the real battlefields they faced overseas.

On the worst days, soldiers say they feel like they are living a chapter of "Catch-22." The wounded manage other wounded. Soldiers dealing with psychological disorders of their own have been put in charge of others at risk of suicide.

Disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers fumble with simple needs: feeding soldiers' families who are close to poverty, replacing a uniform ripped off by medics in the desert sand or helping a brain-damaged soldier remember his next appointment.

"We've done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it," said Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, 26, an amputee who lived at Walter Reed for 16 months. "We don't know what to do. The people who are supposed to know don't have the answers. It's a nonstop process of stalling."

Soldiers, family members, volunteers and caregivers who have tried to fix the system say each mishap seems trivial by itself, but the cumulative effect wears down the spirits of the wounded and can stall their recovery.

"It creates resentment and disenfranchisement," said Joe Wilson, a clinical social worker at Walter Reed. "These soldiers will withdraw and stay in their rooms. They will actively avoid the very treatment and services that are meant to be helpful."

Danny Soto, a national service officer for Disabled American Veterans who helps dozens of wounded service members each week at Walter Reed, said soldiers "get awesome medical care and their lives are being saved," but, "Then they get into the administrative part of it and they are like, 'You saved me for what?' The soldiers feel like they are not getting proper respect. This leads to anger."

This world is invisible to outsiders. Walter Reed occasionally showcases the heroism of these wounded soldiers and emphasizes that all is well under the circumstances. President Bush, former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and members of Congress have promised the best care during their regular visits to the hospital's spit-polished amputee unit, Ward 57.

"We owe them all we can give them," Bush said during his last visit, a few days before Christmas. "Not only for when they're in harm's way, but when they come home to help them adjust if they have wounds, or help them adjust after their time in service."

Along with the government promises, the American public, determined not to repeat the divisive Vietnam experience, has embraced the soldiers even as the war grows more controversial at home. Walter Reed is awash in the generosity of volunteers, businesses and celebrities who donate money, plane tickets, telephone cards and steak dinners.

Yet at a deeper level, the soldiers say they feel alone and frustrated. Seventy-five percent of the troops polled by Walter Reed last March said their experience was "stressful." Suicide attempts and unintentional overdoses from prescription drugs and alcohol, which is sold on post, are part of the narrative here.

Vera Heron spent 15 frustrating months living on post to help care for her son. "It just absolutely took forever to get anything done," Heron said. "They do the paperwork, they lose the paperwork. Then they have to redo the paperwork. You are talking about guys and girls whose lives are disrupted for the rest of their lives, and they don't put any priority on it."

Family members who speak only Spanish have had to rely on Salvadoran housekeepers, a Cuban bus driver, the Panamanian bartender and a Mexican floor cleaner for help. Walter Reed maintains a list of bilingual staffers, but they are rarely called on, according to soldiers and families and Walter Reed staff members.

Evis Morales's severely wounded son was transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda for surgery shortly after she arrived at Walter Reed. She had checked into her government-paid room on post, but she slept in the lobby of the Bethesda hospital for two weeks because no one told her there is a free shuttle between the two facilities. "They just let me off the bus and said 'Bye-bye,' " recalled Morales, a Puerto Rico resident.

Morales found help after she ran out of money, when she called a hotline number and a Spanish-speaking operator happened to answer.

"If they can have Spanish-speaking recruits to convince my son to go into the Army, why can't they have Spanish-speaking translators when he's injured?" Morales asked. "It's so confusing, so disorienting."

Soldiers, wives, mothers, social workers and the heads of volunteer organizations have complained repeatedly to the military command about what one called "The Handbook No One Gets" that would explain life as an outpatient. Most soldiers polled in the March survey said they got their information from friends. Only 12 percent said any Army literature had been helpful.

"They've been behind from Day One," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who headed the House Government Reform Committee, which investigated problems at Walter Reed and other Army facilities. "Even the stuff they've fixed has only been patched."

Among the public, Davis said, "there's vast appreciation for soldiers, but there's a lack of focus on what happens to them" when they return. "It's awful."

Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, commander at Walter Reed, said in an interview last week that a major reason outpatients stay so long, a change from the days when injured soldiers were discharged as quickly as possible, is that the Army wants to be able to hang on to as many soldiers as it can, "because this is the first time this country has fought a war for so long with an all-volunteer force since the Revolution."

Acknowledging the problems with outpatient care, Weightman said Walter Reed has taken steps over the past year to improve conditions for the outpatient army, which at its peak in summer 2005 numbered nearly 900, not to mention the hundreds of family members who come to care for them. One platoon sergeant used to be in charge of 125 patients; now each one manages 30. Platoon sergeants with psychological problems are more carefully screened. And officials have increased the numbers of case managers and patient advocates to help with the complex disability benefit process, which Weightman called "one of the biggest sources of delay."

And to help steer the wounded and their families through the complicated bureaucracy, Weightman said, Walter Reed has recently begun holding twice-weekly informational meetings. "We felt we were pushing information out before, but the reality is, it was overwhelming," he said. "Is it fail-proof? No. But we've put more resources on it."

He said a 21,500-troop increase in Iraq has Walter Reed bracing for "potentially a lot more" casualties.
Bureaucratic Battles

The best known of the Army's medical centers, Walter Reed opened in 1909 with 10 patients. It has treated the wounded from every war since, and nearly one of every four service members injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The outpatients are assigned to one of five buildings attached to the post, including Building 18, just across from the front gates on Georgia Avenue. To accommodate the overflow, some are sent to nearby hotels and apartments. Living conditions range from the disrepair of Building 18 to the relative elegance of Mologne House, a hotel that opened on the post in 1998, when the typical guest was a visiting family member or a retiree on vacation.

The Pentagon has announced plans to close Walter Reed by 2011, but that hasn't stopped the flow of casualties. Three times a week, school buses painted white and fitted with stretchers and blackened windows stream down Georgia Avenue. Sirens blaring, they deliver soldiers groggy from a pain-relief cocktail at the end of their long trip from Iraq via Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and Andrews Air Force Base.

Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon, 43, came in on one of those buses in November 2004 and spent several weeks on the fifth floor of Walter Reed's hospital. His eye and skull were shattered by an AK-47 round. His odyssey in the Other Walter Reed has lasted more than two years, but it began when someone handed him a map of the grounds and told him to find his room across post.

A reconnaissance and land-navigation expert, Shannon was so disoriented that he couldn't even find north. Holding the map, he stumbled around outside the hospital, sliding against walls and trying to keep himself upright, he said. He asked anyone he found for directions.

Shannon had led the 2nd Infantry Division's Ghost Recon Platoon until he was felled in a gun battle in Ramadi. He liked the solitary work of a sniper; "Lone Wolf" was his call name. But he did not expect to be left alone by the Army after such serious surgery and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He had appointments during his first two weeks as an outpatient, then nothing.

"I thought, 'Shouldn't they contact me?' " he said. "I didn't understand the paperwork. I'd start calling phone numbers, asking if I had appointments. I finally ran across someone who said: 'I'm your case manager. Where have you been?'

"Well, I've been here! Jeez Louise, people, I'm your hospital patient!"

Like Shannon, many soldiers with impaired memory from brain injuries sat for weeks with no appointments and no help from the staff to arrange them. Many disappeared even longer. Some simply left for home.

One outpatient, a 57-year-old staff sergeant who had a heart attack in Afghanistan, was given 200 rooms to supervise at the end of 2005. He quickly discovered that some outpatients had left the post months earlier and would check in by phone. "We called them 'call-in patients,' " said Staff Sgt. Mike McCauley, whose dormant PTSD from Vietnam was triggered by what he saw on the job: so many young and wounded, and three bodies being carried from the hospital.

Life beyond the hospital bed is a frustrating mountain of paperwork. The typical soldier is required to file 22 documents with eight different commands -- most of them off-post -- to enter and exit the medical processing world, according to government investigators. Sixteen different information systems are used to process the forms, but few of them can communicate with one another. The Army's three personnel databases cannot read each other's files and can't interact with the separate pay system or the medical recordkeeping databases.

The disappearance of necessary forms and records is the most common reason soldiers languish at Walter Reed longer than they should, according to soldiers, family members and staffers. Sometimes the Army has no record that a soldier even served in Iraq. A combat medic who did three tours had to bring in letters and photos of herself in Iraq to show she that had been there, after a clerk couldn't find a record of her service.

Shannon, who wears an eye patch and a visible skull implant, said he had to prove he had served in Iraq when he tried to get a free uniform to replace the bloody one left behind on a medic's stretcher. When he finally tracked down the supply clerk, he discovered the problem: His name was mistakenly left off the "GWOT list" -- the list of "Global War on Terrorism" patients with priority funding from the Defense Department.

He brought his Purple Heart to the clerk to prove he was in Iraq.

Lost paperwork for new uniforms has forced some soldiers to attend their own Purple Heart ceremonies and the official birthday party for the Army in gym clothes, only to be chewed out by superiors.

The Army has tried to re-create the organization of a typical military unit at Walter Reed. Soldiers are assigned to one of two companies while they are outpatients -- the Medical Holding Company (Medhold) for active-duty soldiers and the Medical Holdover Company for Reserve and National Guard soldiers. The companies are broken into platoons that are led by platoon sergeants, the Army equivalent of a parent.

Under normal circumstances, good sergeants know everything about the soldiers under their charge: vices and talents, moods and bad habits, even family stresses.

At Walter Reed, however, outpatients have been drafted to serve as platoon sergeants and have struggled with their responsibilities. Sgt. David Thomas, a 42-year-old amputee with the Tennessee National Guard, said his platoon sergeant couldn't remember his name. "We wondered if he had mental problems," Thomas said. "Sometimes I'd wear my leg, other times I'd take my wheelchair. He would think I was a different person. We thought, 'My God, has this man lost it?' "

Civilian care coordinators and case managers are supposed to track injured soldiers and help them with appointments, but government investigators and soldiers complain that they are poorly trained and often do not understand the system.

One amputee, a senior enlisted man who asked not to be identified because he is back on active duty, said he received orders to report to a base in Germany as he sat drooling in his wheelchair in a haze of medication. "I went to Medhold many times in my wheelchair to fix it, but no one there could help me," he said.

Finally, his wife met an aide to then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, who got the erroneous paperwork corrected with one phone call. When the aide called with the news, he told the soldier, "They don't even know you exist."

"They didn't know who I was or where I was," the soldier said. "And I was in contact with my platoon sergeant every day."

The lack of accountability weighed on Shannon. He hated the isolation of the younger troops. The Army's failure to account for them each day wore on him. When a 19-year-old soldier down the hall died, Shannon knew he had to take action.

The soldier, Cpl. Jeremy Harper, returned from Iraq with PTSD after seeing three buddies die. He kept his room dark, refused his combat medals and always seemed heavily medicated, said people who knew him. According to his mother, Harper was drunkenly wandering the lobby of the Mologne House on New Year's Eve 2004, looking for a ride home to West Virginia. The next morning he was found dead in his room. An autopsy showed alcohol poisoning, she said.

"I can't understand how they could have let kids under the age of 21 have liquor," said Victoria Harper, crying. "He was supposed to be right there at Walter Reed hospital. . . . I feel that they didn't take care of him or watch him as close as they should have."

The Army posthumously awarded Harper a Bronze Star for his actions in Iraq.

Shannon viewed Harper's death as symptomatic of a larger tragedy -- the Army had broken its covenant with its troops. "Somebody didn't take care of him," he would later say. "It makes me want to cry. "

Shannon and another soldier decided to keep tabs on the brain injury ward. "I'm a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, and I take care of people," he said. The two soldiers walked the ward every day with a list of names. If a name dropped off the large white board at the nurses' station, Shannon would hound the nurses to check their files and figure out where the soldier had gone.

Sometimes the patients had been transferred to another hospital. If they had been released to one of the residences on post, Shannon and his buddy would pester the front desk managers to make sure the new charges were indeed there. "But two out of 10, when I asked where they were, they'd just say, 'They're gone,' " Shannon said.

Even after Weightman and his commanders instituted new measures to keep better track of soldiers, two young men left post one night in November and died in a high-speed car crash in Virginia. The driver was supposed to be restricted to Walter Reed because he had tested positive for illegal drugs, Weightman said.

Part of the tension at Walter Reed comes from a setting that is both military and medical. Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, the squad leader who lost one leg and the use of his other in a grenade attack, said his recovery was made more difficult by a Marine liaison officer who had never seen combat but dogged him about having his mother in his room on post. The rules allowed her to be there, but the officer said she was taking up valuable bed space.

"When you join the Marine Corps, they tell you, you can forget about your mama. 'You have no mama. We are your mama,' " Groves said. "That training works in combat. It doesn't work when you are wounded."
Frustration at Every Turn

The frustrations of an outpatient's day begin before dawn. On a dark, rain-soaked morning this winter, Sgt. Archie Benware, 53, hobbled over to his National Guard platoon office at Walter Reed. Benware had done two tours in Iraq. His head had been crushed between two 2,100-pound concrete barriers in Ramadi, and now it was dented like a tin can. His legs were stiff from knee surgery. But here he was, trying to take care of business.

At the platoon office, he scanned the white board on the wall. Six soldiers were listed as AWOL. The platoon sergeant was nowhere to be found, leaving several soldiers stranded with their requests.

Benware walked around the corner to arrange a dental appointment -- his teeth were knocked out in the accident. He was told by a case manager that another case worker, not his doctor, would have to approve the procedure.

"Goddamn it, that's unbelievable!" snapped his wife, Barb, who accompanied him because he can no longer remember all of his appointments.

Not as unbelievable as the time he received a manila envelope containing the gynecological report of a young female soldier.

Next came 7 a.m. formation, one way Walter Reed tries to keep track of hundreds of wounded. Formation is also held to maintain some discipline. Soldiers limp to the old Red Cross building in rain, ice and snow. Army regulations say they can't use umbrellas, even here. A triple amputee has mastered the art of putting on his uniform by himself and rolling in just in time. Others are so gorked out on pills that they seem on the verge of nodding off.

"Fall in!" a platoon sergeant shouted at Friday formation. The noisy room of soldiers turned silent.

An Army chaplain opened with a verse from the Bible. "Why are we here?" she asked. She talked about heroes and service to country. "We were injured in many ways."

Someone announced free tickets to hockey games, a Ravens game, a movie screening, a dinner at McCormick and Schmick's, all compliments of local businesses.

Every formation includes a safety briefing. Usually it is a warning about mixing alcohol with meds, or driving too fast, or domestic abuse. "Do not beat your spouse or children. Do not let your spouse or children beat you," a sergeant said, to laughter. This morning's briefing included a warning about black ice, a particular menace to the amputees.

Dress warm, the sergeant said. "I see some guys rolling around in their wheelchairs in 30 degrees in T-shirts."

Soldiers hate formation for its petty condescension. They gutted out a year in the desert, and now they are being treated like children.

"I'm trying to think outside the box here, maybe moving formation to Wagner Gym," the commander said, addressing concerns that formation was too far from soldiers' quarters in the cold weather. "But guess what? Those are nice wood floors. They have to be covered by a tarp. There's a tarp that's got to be rolled out over the wooden floors. Then it has to be cleaned, with 400 soldiers stepping all over it. Then it's got to be rolled up."

"Now, who thinks Wagner Gym is a good idea?"

Explaining this strange world to family members is not easy. At an orientation for new arrivals, a staff sergeant walked them through the idiosyncrasies of Army financing. He said one relative could receive a 15-day advance on the $64 per diem either in cash or as an electronic transfer: "I highly recommend that you take the cash," he said. "There's no guarantee the transfer will get to your bank." The audience yawned.

Actually, he went on, relatives can collect only 80 percent of this advance, which comes to $51.20 a day. "The cashier has no change, so we drop to $50. We give you the rest" -- the $1.20 a day -- "when you leave."

The crowd was anxious, exhausted. A child crawled on the floor. The sergeant plowed on. "You need to figure out how long your loved one is going to be an inpatient," he said, something even the doctors can't accurately predict from day to day. "Because if you sign up for the lodging advance," which is $150 a day, "and they get out the next day, you owe the government the advance back of $150 a day."

A case manager took the floor to remind everyone that soldiers are required to be in uniform most of the time, though some of the wounded are amputees or their legs are pinned together by bulky braces. "We have break-away clothing with Velcro!" she announced with a smile. "Welcome to Walter Reed!"
A Bleak Life in Building 18

"Building 18! There is a rodent infestation issue!" bellowed the commander to his troops one morning at formation. "It doesn't help when you live like a rodent! I can't believe people live like that! I was appalled by some of your rooms!"

Life in Building 18 is the bleakest homecoming for men and women whose government promised them good care in return for their sacrifices.

One case manager was so disgusted, she bought roach bombs for the rooms. Mouse traps are handed out. It doesn't help that soldiers there subsist on carry-out food because the hospital cafeteria is such a hike on cold nights. They make do with microwaves and hot plates.

Army officials say they "started an aggressive campaign to deal with the mice infestation" last October and that the problem is now at a "manageable level." They also say they will "review all outstanding work orders" in the next 30 days.

Soldiers discharged from the psychiatric ward are often assigned to Building 18. Buses and ambulances blare all night. While injured soldiers pull guard duty in the foyer, a broken garage door allows unmonitored entry from the rear. Struggling with schizophrenia, PTSD, paranoid delusional disorder and traumatic brain injury, soldiers feel especially vulnerable in that setting, just outside the post gates, on a street where drug dealers work the corner at night.

"I've been close to mortars. I've held my own pretty good," said Spec. George Romero, 25, who came back from Iraq with a psychological disorder. "But here . . . I think it has affected my ability to get over it . . . dealing with potential threats every day."

After Spec. Jeremy Duncan, 30, got out of the hospital and was assigned to Building 18, he had to navigate across the traffic of Georgia Avenue for appointments. Even after knee surgery, he had to limp back and forth on crutches and in pain. Over time, black mold invaded his room.

But Duncan would rather suffer with the mold than move to another room and share his convalescence in tight quarters with a wounded stranger. "I have mold on the walls, a hole in the shower ceiling, but . . . I don't want someone waking me up coming in."

Wilson, the clinical social worker at Walter Reed, was part of a staff team that recognized Building 18's toll on the wounded. He mapped out a plan and, in September, was given a $30,000 grant from the Commander's Initiative Account for improvements. He ordered some equipment, including a pool table and air hockey table, which have not yet arrived. A Psychiatry Department functionary held up the rest of the money because she feared that buying a lot of recreational equipment close to Christmas would trigger an audit, Wilson said.

In January, Wilson was told that the funds were no longer available and that he would have to submit a new request. "It's absurd," he said. "Seven months of work down the drain. I have nothing to show for this project. It's a great example of what we're up against."

A pool table and two flat-screen TVs were eventually donated from elsewhere.

But Wilson had had enough. Three weeks ago he turned in his resignation. "It's too difficult to get anything done with this broken-down bureaucracy," he said.

At town hall meetings, the soldiers of Building 18 keep pushing commanders to improve conditions. But some things have gotten worse. In December, a contracting dispute held up building repairs.

"I hate it," said Romero, who stays in his room all day. "There are cockroaches. The elevator doesn't work. The garage door doesn't work. Sometimes there's no heat, no water. . . . I told my platoon sergeant I want to leave. I told the town hall meeting. I talked to the doctors and medical staff. They just said you kind of got to get used to the outside world. . . . My platoon sergeant said, 'Suck it up!' "

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


Monday, February 19, 2007

McCain: Roe v. Wade should be overturned

Yahoo! News
McCain: Roe v. Wade should be overturned
By JIM DAVENPORT, Associated Press Writer

Republican presidential candidate John McCain (news, bio, voting record), looking to improve his standing with the party's conservative voters, said Sunday the court decision that legalized abortion should be overturned.

"I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned," the Arizona senator told about 800 people in South Carolina, one of the early voting states.

McCain also vowed that if elected, he would appoint judges who "strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench."

The landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade gave women the right to choose an abortion to terminate a pregnancy. The Supreme Court has narrowly upheld the decision, with the presence of an increasing number of more conservative justices on the court raising the possibility that abortion rights would be limited.

Social conservatives are a critical voting bloc in the GOP presidential primaries.

McCain's campaign also announced early Sunday that he had been endorsed by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who had been considering his own bid for the White House, and former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, who failed in his bid for the Republican nomination in 1996.

Keating told the crowd that McCain is the "only candidate who is a true-blue, Ronald Reagan conservative."

McCain later attended an evening rally promoting an abstinence program. He told the crowd of more than 1,000 teens and parents that young people have pressures far different from the ones he faced while growing up. "Sometimes I've made the wrong choice," McCain said.

He also talked about his experience as a prisoner of war during Vietnam, and described some of the torture he suffered. His captors "wanted to make us do things that we otherwise wouldn't do," including confessing to war crimes, McCain said.

He and fellow prisoners were beat up for practicing their religion, but they continued to do it. "Sometimes it is very difficult to do the right thing," he said.

McCain has strong name recognition and the largest network of supporters in South Carolina. That backing comes in part from his staunch support for the Iraq war, something on which he focused a day earlier in Iowa. But it's the same state that dealt a crushing blow to his presidential aspirations in 2000.

McCain is trying to build support among conservatives after a recent rebuke from Christian leader James Dobson, who said he wouldn't back McCain's presidential bid. Conservatives question McCain's opposition to a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. He opposes same-sex marriage, but says it should be regulated by the states.


Bush's failure to capture Osama bin Laden yeilds "Intact And Strengthening" Al Qaeda

The New York Times
Al Qaeda Chiefs Are Seen to Regain Power

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 — Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.

American analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and Mr. Zawahri, the analysts said. Mr. bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement.

Officials said the training camps had yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. But groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, the officials said, and the Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.

The new warnings are different from those made in recent months by intelligence officials and terrorism experts, who have spoken about the growing abilities of Taliban forces and Pakistani militants to launch attacks into Afghanistan. American officials say that the new intelligence is focused on Al Qaeda and points to the prospect that the terrorist network is gaining in strength despite more than five years of a sustained American-led campaign to weaken it.

The intelligence and counterterrorism officials would discuss the classified intelligence only on the condition of anonymity. They would not provide some of the evidence that led them to their assessments, saying that revealing the information would disclose too much about the sources and methods of intelligence collection.

The concern about a resurgent Al Qaeda has been the subject of intensive discussion at high levels of the Bush administration, the officials said, and has reignited debate about how to address Pakistan’s role as a haven for militants without undermining the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president.

Last week, President Bush’s senior counterterrorism adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend, went to Afghanistan during a Middle East trip to meet with security officials about rising concerns on Al Qaeda’s resurgence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, an administration official said.

Officials from several different American intelligence and counterterrorism agencies presented a consistent picture in describing the developments as a major setback to American efforts against Al Qaeda.

A Split Over Strategy

But debates within the administration about how best to deal with the threat have yet to yield any good solutions, officials in Washington said. One counterterrorism official said that some within the Pentagon were advocating American strikes against the camps, but that others argued that any raids could result in civilian casualties. And State Department officials say increased American pressure could undermine President Musharraf’s military-led government.

Some of the interviews with officials were granted after John D. Negroponte, then the director of national intelligence, told Congress last month that “Al Qaeda’s core elements are resilient” and that the organization was “cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders’ secure hide-out in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.”

As recently as 2005, American intelligence assessments described senior leaders of Al Qaeda as cut off from their foot soldiers and able only to provide inspiration for future attacks. But more recent intelligence describes the organization’s hierarchy as intact and strengthening.

“The chain of command has been re-established,” said one American government official, who said that the Qaeda “leadership command and control is robust.”

American officials and analysts said a variety of factors in Pakistan had come together to allow “core Al Qaeda” — a reference to Mr. bin Laden and his immediate circle — to regain some of its strength. The emergence of a relative haven in North Waziristan and the surrounding area has helped senior operatives communicate more effectively with the outside world via courier and the Internet.

The investigation into last summer’s failed plot to bomb airliners in London has led counterterrorism officials to what they say are “clear linkages” between the plotters and core Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. American analysts point out that the trials of terrorism suspects in Britain revealed that some of the defendants had been trained in Pakistan.

In a videotaped statement last year, Mr. Zawahri claimed responsibility for the July 2005 London suicide bombings. Included in the same tape was a statement by one of the London suicide bombers, pledging allegiance to Al Qaeda. Two of the four bombers traveled to Pakistan prior to the attack.

Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, told the House Armed Services Committee last week that Al Qaeda “is on the march.” He said, “Al Qaeda in fact is now functioning exactly as its founder and leader, Osama bin Laden, envisioned it,” because, he said, Qaeda leaders are planning major attacks and inspiring militants to carry out attacks around the globe.

Other experts questioned the seriousness of Pakistan’s commitment. They argued that elements of Pakistan’s military still supported the Taliban and saw them as a valuable proxy to counter the rising influence of India, Pakistan’s regional rival.

Joint Efforts by Militants

Since 2001, members of various militant groups in Pakistan have increased their cooperation with one another in the tribal areas, according to American analysts.

The analysts said that North Waziristan became a hub of militant activity last year, after President Musharraf negotiated a treaty with tribal leaders in the area. He pledged to pull troops back to barracks in the area in exchange for tribal leaders’ ending support for cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but officials in Washington and Islamabad conceded that the agreement had been a failure.

During a news conference days before last November’s elections, President Bush said of the campaign against Al Qaeda: “Absolutely, we’re winning. Al Qaeda is on the run.”

But in a speech several days ago, Mr. Bush painted a more sober picture of Al Qaeda’s current strength, especially inside Pakistan.

“Taliban and Al Qaeda figures do hide in remote regions of Pakistan,” Mr. Bush said. “This is wild country; this is wilder than the Wild West. And these folks hide and recruit and launch attacks.”

Officials said that both American and foreign intelligence services had collected evidence leading them to conclude that at least one of the camps in Pakistan might be training operatives capable of striking Western targets. A particular concern is that the camps are frequented by British citizens of Pakistani descent who travel to Pakistan on British passports.

In a speech in November, the director general of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, said that terrorist plots in Britain “often have links back to Al Qaeda in Pakistan.” She said that “through those links, Al Qaeda gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale.”

Leaders Appear Secure

Officials said that the United States still had little idea where Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri had been hiding since 2001, but that the two men were not believed to be present in the camps currently operating in North Waziristan. Among the indicators that American officials cited as a sign that Qaeda leaders felt more secure was the release of 21 statements by Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri in 2006, roughly twice the number as in the previous year.

In the past, statements issued by Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri referred to events that were sometimes several weeks old, one official said, suggesting that the men had difficulty creating a secure means of distributing the tapes. Now, the statements are more current, at times referring to events that occurred days earlier.

American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said that most of the men receiving training in Pakistan had been carrying out attacks inside Afghanistan, but that Al Qaeda had also strengthened its ties to groups in Iraq that had sworn allegiance to Mr. bin Laden. They said dozens of seasoned fighters were moving between Pakistan and Iraq, apparently engaging in an “exchange of best practices” for attacking American forces.

Over the past year, insurgent tactics from Iraq have migrated to Afghanistan, where suicide bombings have increased fivefold and roadside bomb attacks have doubled. In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee last week, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the departing commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, said the United States could not prevail in Afghanistan and defeat global terrorism without addressing the havens in Pakistan.

Pakistani officials say that they are doing their best to gain control of the area and that military efforts to pacify it have failed, but that more reconstruction aid is needed.

Officials said that over the past year, Al Qaeda had also shown an increased international capability, citing as an example its alliance with the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, an Algerian-based group that has carried out a series of attacks in recent months.

Last fall, the Algerian group renamed itself Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb. Officials in Washington say they believe that the group is linked to a recent string of sophisticated car bombings and other attacks in Algeria, including a December attack on a bus carrying Halliburton contractors.

David Johnston contributed reporting from Washington, and Carlotta Gall from Islamabad, Pakistan.