Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion
Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan
Saturday, October 16, 2004
Is Bush Shortchanging our Troops?
The refusal of 19 reservists
of the 43rd Quartermaster Company in Tallil to take fuel up to Taji north of Baghdad sheds significant light on issues that have come up in the presidential debates. As Eric Brunner-Williams notes
, "It appears that they disobayed an illegal order, to conduct routine logistics ops [by] delivering fuel known to be water contaminated to combat units (sabotage) and doing so without combat support and draw casualties (standing orders on force protection)."
One of the reservists, Amber McClenny, managed to get a phone call through to her mother, leaving a message that said, ""We had broken-down trucks, nonarmored vehicles and, um, we were carrying contaminated fuel. They are holding us against our will. We are now prisoners." (The Army denies that anyone is being detained in the case.)
That is, there are three separate elements to the order that the reservists refused to obey. The first was that they were being sent to deliver contaminated fuel that shouldn't have in fact been delivered up to the hot war front in Anbar province. The second is that they were being sent to do it in old barely operational vehicles that not only were not armored properly against roadside bombs, but might break down, stranding the soldiers and exposing them to a guerrilla attack. The third was that they were being denied the customary escort by humvees and helicopter gunships, key to scaring off potential small-band guerrilla attacks.
In other words, they were ordered to do something illegal in a way that might well have gotten them killed for no good reason.
Kerry said in the first presidential debate
' KERRY: The president just talked about Iraq as a center of the war on terror. Iraq was not even close to the center of the war on terror before the president invaded it.
The president made the judgment to divert forces from under General Tommy Franks from Afghanistan before the Congress even approved it to begin to prepare to go to war in Iraq.
And he rushed the war in Iraq without a plan to win the peace. Now, that is not the judgment that a president of the United States ought to make. You don't take America to war unless have the plan to win the peace. You don't send troops to war without the body armor that they need.
KERRY: I've met kids in Ohio, parents in Wisconsin places, Iowa, where they're going out on the Internet to get the state-of-the-art body gear to send to their kids. Some of them got them for a birthday present.
I think that's wrong. Humvees -- 10,000 out of 12,000 Humvees that are over there aren't armored. And you go visit some of those kids in the hospitals today who were maimed because they don't have the armament. '
Bush's only response to the charge that the troops are not properly equipped has been that Kerry voted against the $87 bn appropriation bill submitted last fall. But this is just playing for the camera, since he knows very well that Kerry's "no" vote on that bill had nothing to do with equipping the troops, and that there was never any question that the military appropriation for Iraq would go through.
The real issue is that the bill passed
, but that the money doesn't seem to have gotten to the troops on the ground. The incident at Tallil sheds a flood of light on the continued problems of lack of proper equipment that US troops face. Zell Miller came before the Republican convention with a litany of all the weapons programs that had proved useful in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the fact is that really fancy equipment, aside from the ability to laser-target objectives, was never very useful in Afghanistan. As Donald Rumsfeld noted, there were "no good targets in Afghanistan." In Iraq after the war, what would have been useful was just armored transport vehicles that had some chance of surviving a grenade attack.
At Tallil, apparently the reservists are being ordered into old broken down army trucks to go out and face the guerrillas without even a modicum of protection. This incident suggests that Kerry's view of the situation is more realistic than that of Bush.