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Military in Iraq Permanently

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Long...worth reading.

 

 

 

Michael Hirsh / Newsweek | April 23 2006

 

Maj. Micah Morgan fondly pats the nose of his Predator drone, much as a cavalry officer of old might have stroked the muzzle of his prized horse. "This is the future of the Air Force," says Morgan, a former B-1 bomber pilot. It is a glorious day in the Sunni Triangle. Outside the "wire" of Balad Air Base the insurgency still rages and sectarian war looms, but the sky above is a deep azure and, no small thing, wholly American-owned. A relaxed Morgan watches from the shade of Saddam Hussein's old hardened hangars as another Predator—an unmanned craft about the size of a Cessna—approaches for a remote-control landing at the vast airfield after a recon mission. Stepping into one of his modular "ground-control stations," which are encased in steel and shipped to Balad as single units, Morgan flicks on a screen that shows his flock of drones (the exact number is classified, but it's the largest fleet in the world) hovering over Baghdad, each carrying two Hellfire missiles and searching with uncanny clarity for insurgents and other signs of trouble.

 

The American airman who is piloting these drones, however, is not in Iraq. He is 7,000 miles away, in Las Vegas. Once Morgan's small crew at Balad gets the Predators aloft—a tricky business that still requires on-site piloting, as does landing—they are switched by satellite to the control of an operator at Nellis Air Force Base outside Sin City. Then, using new "Rover" technology, whatever the Predators spot on their cameras and infrared heat detectors can be beamed to the onboard screen of any ground commander in a Humvee, Bradley or tank. In the future, that commander will likely be a U.S. officer embedded in an Iraqi Army or police unit, feeding intel to his Iraqi protégés. Morgan, who still marvels at the idea, says: "Some guy in Vegas gets to knock off at 7, go out to the casino or lay out by the pool, and he's just flown a combat mission in Iraq." And the new Predators soon to be deployed at Balad are going to be bigger and better, carrying more Hellfires, and some larger JDAM bombs as well. Huge new ramps and runway aprons are also under construction. These are designed, in part, to accommodate a C-130 cargo squadron that moved here from Kuwait in January to relieve vulnerable Army supply convoys in Iraq.

 

With 27,500 landings and takeoffs a month, Balad is second only to London's Heathrow airport in traffic worldwide, according to Brig. Gen. Frank Gorenc, the base commander and leader of 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, Gorenc said he's "normalizing" the giant Balad airfield, or gradually rebuilding it to U.S. military specs. The Saddam-era concrete is considered too substandard for the F-16s, C-130s and other aircraft that fly in and out so regularly, they crack the tarmac. At this point, virtually none of the traffic is Iraqi: the national Air Force has only three crews of transport airmen. "It's safe to say Balad will be here for a long time," says Gorenc, who feels at home in Iraqi skies, where the Air Force has been having its way since the first gulf war. "One of the issues of sovereignty for any country is the ability to control their own airspace. We will probably be helping the Iraqis with that problem for a very long time."

 

If you want an image of what America's long-term plans for Iraq look like, it's right here at Balad. Tucked away in a rural no man's land 43 miles north of Baghdad, this 15-square-mile mini-city of thousands of trailers and vehicle depots is one of four "superbases" where the Pentagon plans to consolidate U.S. forces, taking them gradually from the front lines of the Iraq war. (Two other bases are slated for the British and Iraqi military.) The shift is part of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's plan to draw down U.S. ground forces in Iraq significantly by the end of 2006. Pentagon planners hope that this partial withdrawal will, in turn, help take the edge off rising opposition to the war at home—long enough to secure Iraq's nascent democracy.

 

But the vast base being built up at Balad is also hard evidence that, despite all the political debate in Washington about a quick U.S. pullout, the Pentagon is planning to stay in Iraq for a long time—at least a decade or so, according to military strategists. Sovereignty issues still need to be worked out by mutual, legal agreement. But even as Iraqi politicians settle on a new government after four months of stalemate—on Saturday, they agreed on a new prime minister, Jawad al-Maliki—they also are welcoming the long-term U.S. presence. Sectarian conflict here has worsened in recent months, outstripping the anti-American insurgency in significance, and many Iraqis know there is no alternative to U.S. troops for the foreseeable future. "I think the presence of the American forces can be seen as an insurance policy for the unity of Iraq," says national-security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie.

 

There is ample evidence elsewhere of America's long-term plans. The new $592 million U.S. Embassy being built at the heart of Baghdad's "international zone" is "massive ... the largest embassy to date," says Maj. Gen. Chuck Williams, head of the State Department's Overseas Building Operations office. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, Williams called it the "most ambitious project" his office has undertaken in its history (graphic). Officials in both the executive branch and Congress say they are unaware of any serious planning, or even talk inside the national-security bureaucracy, about a full withdrawal. The Pentagon has one intel officer assigned to produce and update analyses regarding the consequences of a U.S. pullout. But the job is only a part-time assignment, according to a Pentagon source who asked for anonymity because of the sensitive subject matter. As President George W. Bush himself said in March, the final number of U.S. troops "will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq."

 

Life on the emerging Iraqi superbases is safer and easier than elsewhere in the country. Though soldiers and airmen at Balad jokingly call it "Mortaritaville," no one's been hit since January. And compared to the muddy, Porta Potti unpleasantness U.S. servicemen endure out at approximately 75 small "forward operating bases," Balad is shaping up to resemble a warrior's country club. A new rec hall is being built, with a 24/7 cybercafé, a premium coffee shop (Green Beans, known as the soldier's Starbucks worldwide), an indoor mini-golf course and a movie theater. There is an outdoor and an indoor pool left over from Uday Hussein's days training Iraqi Olympians here, but few remaining signs of the Hussein family, or indeed of anything Iraqi at all: to get to the big pool you head down Texas Avenue, around Victory Loop past David Letterman Boulevard and then down Balad's main drag, called Pennsylvania Avenue.

 

True, most Iraqis don't like the U.S. occupation today any better than they did a year ago, or two, or three. But with the exception of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, no major politician is calling for U.S. withdrawal. "Even guys who want Americans to leave, they know it will be civil war if they do," says Ahmed al-Jobory, an unemployed chemical engineer working at Balad. What is emerging is a sense of psychological dependency. Even the new Iraqi Army, on which Washington is spending billions, is designed to be weak. The Army just received its first armor from the United States: light-skinned Humvees. But the Pentagon won't be giving up any tanks. "The goal is to have them equipped to fight a counterinsurgency, not to defend against external threats," says Lt. Col. Michael Negard, public-affairs officer for the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq. (The military says it needs to help the Iraqi Army win the fight it's in now, not the battles of the future.)

 

U.S. officials routinely deny that America intends to put down permanent bases. "A key planning factor in our basing strategy is that there will be no bases in Iraq following Operation Iraqi Freedom," says Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for centcom in Baghdad. "What we have in Iraq are 'contingency bases,' intended to support our operations in Iraq on a temporary basis until OIF is complete." But according to the Congressional Research Service, the Bush administration has asked for more than $1.1 billion for new military construction in Iraq, roughly double what it plans to spend in Kuwait, Qatar and United Arab Emirates combined. Of that, the single biggest share is intended for Balad ($231 million).

 

 

Technically, Colonel Johnson may be telling the truth about the Pentagon's long-term plans. But it is also true that the U.S. government has never drawn up plans for "permanent" military bases, even when it ended up staying for half a century. In Korea, where tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers have been deployed for 55 years, since the end of the Korean War, "they're only just now moving American troops out of temporary facilities like huts to real buildings," says John Pike, a Washington security expert. A White House official, asked last week about long-term U.S. plans, himself made the analogy to Asia and to Germany. In every conflict the United States has recently been involved in, except Vietnam, U.S. forces have remained in the country, said the official, who asked for anonymity because the matter is considered sensitive.

 

In fact, the plans for Balad fit in with Rumsfeld's larger designs for a dramatic reconfiguring of U.S. forces overseas. Big cold-war bases, with tens of thousands of permanently garrisoned troops, are on the way out. On the way in: giant "lily pads" for expeditionary U.S. forces to use only when needed, with ready equipment warehoused there. Balad, with its huge offramps and aprons, is a testing ground for that concept, according to several Pentagon officials. Major Morgan, for one, describes the deployment of Predators that are piloted from the United States as a "perfect example of being expeditionary."

 

One big question is whether a reduced but long-term U.S. presence in Iraq can be effective. Counterinsurgency experts say that sectarian conflict and insurgencies simply can't be fought from the air. And the Air Force officers at Balad say that, at long last, they're getting that message. The result is that, rather than dropping bombs, F-16s in Iraq today are doing police work from 15,000 feet, using brand-new advanced targeting pods, which can pick up activity on the ground day or night. Since January, says F-16 squadron commander Pete (Guns) Gersten, he has been feeding the info to his Army "brothers" rather than bombing the targets. "The Army said, 'Every time you blow stuff up, we get it back five times [in reprisals]'," he says. "So now we just do a lot of surveillance for the Army. They say it's time to start building. It's time to quit blowing things up."

 

But Gersten adds that, when it comes to preventing all-out civil war, control of the skies is crucial. "When I show up at a firefight, it stops," he says. "We're the big brother." Bristle-headed and lean in his tan flight suit, Gersten looks very much like a character out of "Top Gun." Is he a tad overconfident? Perhaps. But he fairly well sums up how Washington sees its role in Iraq today—and for a long time to come.

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This is not exactly new information. The U.S. will probably have at least some troops in Iraq for about ten or fifteen years. With luck, it will be a steadily decreasing number. The Occupation of Japan was over in what, 1952? We still have troops there, what, twenty-four years later? And the Third Marine Division is still deployed to Okinawa sixty-one years after the Marines took Okinawa.

 

But that's not "forever."

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But that's not "forever."

 

You failed to mention Gitmo, leased under threat of military action over 100 years ago, or our bases in Germany, still there after 50 years...

 

it's only not 'forever' because our instruments aren't set up to measure that big... In order to not get bogged down in semantics though, let's just say "for the rest of our lives".

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the usa are in a very difficult position with iran,

as far as i know it's their fault for interfering and stuff, but its hard to know what to do now.

 

itsa shame, they were doin well with isolationism until the great war.

 

 

 

the usa need to get rid of bush really badly

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part of me agrees and part of me doesn't. granted, there are stupid people in the military. there's stupid people everywhere. i wouldn't smear the whole lot. i'm sure there's people like you in the military. for alot of people it's a job. you might know this if you weren't still sucking on your moms tit.

enough of the shit talking. i haven't even properly addressed this topic yet.

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wow, you went from captain obvious to furious one in three lines!

 

as we continue to stay off topic, when your job requires you to kill people

for no reason at all, it doesnt exactly qualify as a 'job'

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In war, a soldier has almost without exception had more in common with his enemy than the ones sending him to war. Call it what you will. I just call it survival.

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wow, you went from captain obvious to furious one in three lines!

 

as we continue to stay off topic, when your job requires you to kill people

for no reason at all, it doesnt exactly qualify as a 'job'

 

theres always a reason

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back on topic-

it does not surprise me that bush is interested in securing his investment in Iraq. With the country on the brink of civil war now this may be a necessary evil for troops to remain. I'm glad the focus is shifting towards a real reconstruction now. That word reconstruction has been kicked around alot over the last few years, mostly as political demogoguery, but with the military in need of real solutions, they can pressure the politicians to toe the line they preach.

 

i am amazed that there are so many predators there. good that they are switching to intelligence gathering. i am in agreement that a counterinsurgency cannot be fought from the air. it's not like we are fighting a conventional army with clearly identifiable targets. we have to know the enemy. and in the process we will learn what motivates them. in the process of that we will be able to cull the source of this problem, rather than perpetuating a cycle of violence that seeks to strike at the symptoms and not the cause.

 

i'm not going to sit here and pretend to know the many, myriad of problems, that Iraqis have to deal with on a daily basis, but i can at least take comfort in the idea that we are making efforts to redress the issue. Democracy is only effective if there is equal protection and opportunity for all. The good thing is that people there make no bones about speaking their minds, now it's a matter of establishing a responsive, compassionate and fair government. With agreement on a prime minister there appears to be progress in this area as well.

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part of me agrees and part of me doesn't. granted, there are stupid people in the military. there's stupid people everywhere. i wouldn't smear the whole lot. i'm sure there's people like you in the military. for alot of people it's a job. you might know this if you weren't still sucking on your moms tit.

enough of the shit talking. i haven't even properly addressed this topic yet.

 

dude, the reason that i know this is that i enlisted in the navy earlier this year. i scored a 93 on the ASVAB and was qualified to go directly into the nuclear training program (a very exclusive program, i would've gone for officer training but wasn't eligible due to problems with my criminal record). but things got fucked up because my dad happens to be from iran and they wouldn't allow me into the program, i enlisted anyway into a crap electronics/avionics job. being that i was in the delayed entry program and didn't have to go to boot camp until september, i knew that i could get out of it (regardless of scare tactics that recruiters use) and i've done just that.

MOST people that join the military are FUCKWITS. i was surrounded by them for extended periods of time and quickly realized this. they are the bottom feeders of society that, sadly, are dumb enough to fight, and die in a war that they can't even begin to possibly understand. the only reason i was joining was to have an opportunity to go back to school but decided there's better ways to get money for school that don't involve selling your life to the military. alot of the military personnel that i met told me that enlisting was the best decision that they ever made. now how can making a decision to never have to make another decision be such a wonderful decision? these are people that don't use their minds because they don't want to use their minds. so, yeah i can see how joining the military would be appropriate for such a person.

i also don't have much time to suck my mom's tit while working 55 hours a week and the precious hours in between spent at the library. fuck your mouth.

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In war' date=' a soldier has almost without exception had more in common with his enemy than the ones sending him to war. Call it what you will. I just call it survival.[/quote']

 

I call it 'using you, to get what they want and in the process you get killed while they dont'

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MOST people that join the military are FUCKWITS.

 

Well that's a little better. I just don't like blanket statements. I'm only trying to make sure the conversation remains in the realm of reality and not based upon personal bias. The fact of the matter is that since the 1980s the military has been the number one vehicle propelling minorities into the middle class. It provides opportunity for those without much choice. I actually came into the military straight off the streets. I doubt you have ever been that low in your life but believe you me, it's not an easy hole to climb out of. While there are many people in the military who might fit the description you describe, it's not at all the rule. I only insulted you because you insulted me first, dickface. I can do this all day, it's no skin off my nose, but I'm not here to trade insults. I welcome a sparring of wits however.

 

Yes Tesseract, I know they use us... in the worst ways imaginable. The blame should be laid on the heads of the leadership though. We are, after all, property of the US government.

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Luke Skywalker---

 

I can see that your life is way more valuable that all those fuckwits who enlisted. You're so smart and clever to figure out a way to avoid your military obligation. I'm sure you'll do real well in college, probably get a top job with a top firm, get promoted and sent to New York City, where you'll get a great office with a window view of the Atlantic. . .

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