Thursday, August 04, 2005

"Roadside Russian Roulette"

The above is Bob Herbert's term for an Army workaround--the rotation of soldiers between armored, up-armored, or non-armored Humvees. It's as apt a description as any for a war where the "front lines" are, as often as not, the roads.

Herbert writes about Hugo Luis Gonzalez, who paid a heavy price--but, thankfully, not the ultimate price--for riding in an open backed Humvee (called a "bucket" in military jargon):

"It was a whole experience to prepare that vehicle to go out," said Specialist Gonzalez, "because you knew that if something happened, you were definitely going to get it. We put as many sandbags as possible on the floor, hoping those sandbags might save your life."

I asked if he had done anything else to prepare. "Oh, yes," he said. "Pray. And then you take a big breath when you go out of the gates to start the mission. You inhale at that moment. And when you come back from the mission, then you exhale."

On that morning, Specialist Gonzalez had to be carried back from the mission. The "bucket" took a direct hit from an I.E.D., and a furious gun battle with insurgents broke out. Fragments from the blast ripped into Specialist Gonzalez's head.

"I remember trying to get down and calling for a medic," he said. "I lost consciousness on the floor."

Gonzalez lost his right eye, his left eye is severely damaged, and the brain injuries he sustained altered his psyche. Still, he was lucky.

Because even though some Humvees STILL lack proper armor, a much more important consequence of the Bush-Rumsfeld war plan--the one involving lots of victory parades and campaign photo-ops, at the expense of, oh, say SECURING explosives at places like Al Qaqaa--is the latest insurgent tactic of using very large shells with shaped charges, which can not only obliterate armored Humvees, but can literally flip Amphibious Assault Vehicles over:

In recent months the roadside bombs favored by insurgents in Iraq have grown significantly in size and sophistication, the officers say, adding to their deadliness and defeating efforts to increase troops' safety by adding armor to vehicles...

Senior American commanders say they have also seen evidence that insurgents are making increased use of "shaped" charges, which concentrate the blast and give it a better chance of penetrating armored vehicles, causing higher casualties.

Insurgents are also planting multiple bombs at a single site--this can either cause additional casualties, or, at the very least, make much harder work of bomb removal.

Oh, and for those who can stand plowing through enough shit to keep a Greatful Dead tour in hallucinogens for decades, here's a transcript of a Defense Department briefing featuring Lawrence DiRita and Carter Ham, the "B" team at the Pentagon...I guess Rummy and Dick had more important things. The transcript, alas, doesn't truly catch the level of snide dripping from DiRita, or the deer-in-the-headlights-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel visage of the Brigadier General. Maybe C-SPan has the video.

Several things stood out in the briefing, aside from the overall mein of the principles. One is that it's evident we lack the troop strength to do anything more than engage the insurgents in a never ending game of whack-a-mole...and the insurgents aren't always on the receiving end. Second, I wonder what the hell a Brigadier General does that's more important than determining exactly what happened to upwards of 15 people who've been hired and trained by the military for dangerous tasks. Was the guy busy reading or writing reports? Typing up grant proposals? Or what? The sheer number of times--and ways--Ham said "I don't know" pushed the limits of creative phraseology, while DiRita, interestingly, parsed answers in a way that any defense attorney would look upon with pride in a client well advised.

On a more serious note, though, reality is beginning to nip at the exposed backside of Team Bush, no matter how much they believe they can "create their own reality." Bush continues to trot out tired old nags of responses to Al Qaeda taunts despite the fact that the military is so hamstrung fending off "Baathist dead enders and foreign fanatics" in Iraq that it may not recover for a decade or more.

Perhaps the press will one day call him on that--or any of hundreds of examples of GOP lunacy...though I won't bet on it. The public, though, is a different story. Ohio voters almost elected Paul Hackett to an Ohio seat that hasn't seen a Democratic victory in decades, much less a close race. And as more and more soldiers pay the ultimate price in a horrible game of "roadside Russian Roulette," with no end in sight, their loved ones and those of us who pay attention might well decide we're sick and tired of the chickenhawks who sent those soldiers there--and who are so blase about the losses...

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