As Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq came to Capitol Hill to testify before Senate committees, Vermont's congressional delegation reaffirmed support for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. "The war in Iraq," said Senator Sanders, "has been a disaster in terms of the number of dead and wounded, the loss of focus on al Qaeda and Afghanistan, and the cost that eventually will exceed $1 trillion. It is unacceptable that we have an administration that refuses to tell us how many more years we will be in Iraq or how many billions of dollars will be added to the national debt. The United States has a moral obligation to support the Iraqi government and military, but we must bring our troops home as soon as possible."
Senator Patrick Leahy said, "The reality in Iraq is that the troop escalation called the surge has failed to achieve its central goal. Iraq remains riven by ethnic, religious, and tribal differences, and the myriad of groups have made only limited and halting steps toward reconciling their differences. Violence is again on the upswing, and the recently failed Basra offensive has emboldened militant groups while revealing the deep weaknesses of the fledgling Iraq military. Every day more American servicemen and women are killed or grievously wounded, with no end in sight to our involvement there. A deadline for the beginning of the orderly and swift redeployment of American forces, combined with effective diplomacy, would end Iraqi dependence on the United States and force some type of peace agreement."
Congressman Peter Welch said, "We need a change of direction in Iraq. Unfortunately, all President Bush is offering is more of the same military policy that has yet to produce the political progress to sustain a functioning Iraqi democracy. This war has cost our troops and their families, our national security, and American taxpayers gravely. Now, in the sixth year of this unjust and unnecessary war, 150,000 of our men and women remain deployed in an extremely dangerous environment, while the Maliki government is fighting its political rivals rather than negotiating a sustainable peace. General Petraeus and President Bush have yet to provide the American people with a strategy to achieve the political reconciliation necessary to bring this horrible war to an end."
A sampling of recent newspaper headlines demonstrates how the war in Iraq has severely strained the U.S. military and weakened our national security by distracting us from the main threats facing the United States.
Admiral Mullen Said Military is Tired and Worn Thin by Wars. "The top uniformed military officer on Wednesday described a tired U.S. military force, worn thin by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and unlikely to come home in large numbers anytime soon. The assessment comes as President Bush decides whether to continue troop reductions in Iraq — possibly endangering fragile security gains made in recent months — or not, and risk straining ground forces further. ‘The well is deep, but it is not infinite,' Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. ‘We must get Army deployments down to 12 months as soon as possible. People are tired.'" [Army Times/Associated Press, 2/8/08]
Army Vice Chief of Staff General Cody Said Army's Readiness Is Being Consumed As Fast As It Can Be Built. "But today our Army is out of balance. The current demand for forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds our sustainable supply of soldiers, of units and equipment, and limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies. Our readiness, quite frankly, is being consumed as fast as we can build it." [Testimony to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Readiness, 4/1/08]
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Cody Said We Do Not Have Ready All the Ready Brigades We Need. "Right now, all the units that are back at home station are training, as I said before, to replace the next units in Afghanistan and Iraq. If the surge comes down the way we predict, and we get so many troops back and brigade combat teams back, and we can get the dwell time right, we will start getting those units trained to full spectrum readiness for future contingencies. I don't know what those future contingencies are, but I do know that this nation and this Joint Force needs to have a division ready brigade, an airborne brigade ready for full spectrum operations, a heavy brigade combat team ready for full spectrum operations, and a Stryker brigade combat team ready for full spectrum operations. And we don't have that today." [Testimony to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, 4/1/08]
General Cody Testified He Has Never Seen Our Lack of Strategic Depth Be Where It Is Today. "Right now, as I testified, I've been doing this for six years. As you know, I was at G-3 of the Army and vice chief now for almost four years. And I've never seen our lack of strategic depth be at where it is today." [Testimony to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Readiness, 4/1/08]
General Cody Testified Brigades Getting Ready to Go Back to Iraq and Afghanistan Are Not Where They Need to Be Regarding Equipment Readiness. General Cody, the Army Vice Chief of Staff testified to before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Readiness that, "The brigades that we have today that are getting ready to deploy are all going back to either Afghanistan or Iraq. They will all have 12 months dwell time. Many of them are at a readiness rate in terms of equipment, in an unclassified setting, of not where they need to be." [Testimony to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Readiness, 4/1/08]
Army Concerned About Mental Health of Soldiers On Multiple Tours. "Army leaders are expressing increased alarm about the mental health of soldiers who would be sent back to the front again and again under plans that call for troop numbers to be sustained at high levels in Iraq for this year and beyond. Among combat troops sent to Iraq for the third or fourth time, more than one in four show signs of anxiety, depression or acute stress, according to an official Army survey of soldiers' mental health." [New York Times, 4/6/08]
27 Percent of Non-Commissioned Officers Who Had Served More Than 2 Tours Exhibited PTSD Symptoms, Much Higher than Among First and Second Tour Officers. "The Army study of mental health showed that 27 percent of noncommissioned officers — a critically important group — on their third or fourth tour exhibited symptoms commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorders. That figure is far higher than the roughly 12 percent who exhibit those symptoms after one tour and the 18.5 percent who develop the disorders after a second deployment, according to the study, which was conducted by the Army surgeon general's Mental Health Advisory Team." [New York Times, 4/6/08]
More Army Recruits Required ‘Conduct Waivers.' "The percentage of recruits requiring a waiver to join the Army because of a criminal record or other past misconduct has more than doubled since 2004 to one for every eight new soldiers. The increase reflects the difficulties the Army faces in attracting young men and women into the military at a time of war. ‘Each month is a struggle, for the Army in particular,' said Bill Carr, a top military personnel official." [USA Today, 4/7/08]
NIE: Al-Qaeda Is Main Threat to U.S., Has Regenerated Key Elements of its Homeland Attack Capability. "Al-Qa'ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership… As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment." [National Intelligence Estimate, 7/17/07]
CIA Director Gen. Hayden Said He Believed That Another Terrorist Attack on the U.S. Would Originate in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Region. On Meet the Press, Tim Russert said, "Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes that there is--if there is another terrorist attack, it will originate there." General Hayden responded, "We believe so, too. We, we, we can see what's going on… But it's very clear to us that al-Qaeda has been able, over the past 18 months or so, to establish a safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area that they have not enjoyed before, that they are bringing operatives into that region for training, operatives that, a phrase I would use, Tim, wouldn't attract your attention if they were going through the customs line at Dulles with you when you're coming back from overseas." [Meet the Press, 3/30/08]
Al-Qaeda Was on Brink of Defeat Before Iraq War Shifted U.S. Attention. "The United States appeared to have soundly defeated the terrorist organization. As Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown professor and one of the world's leading authorities on terrorism, told me, ‘It's difficult to recall the extent to which it was believed that a decisive corner had been turned in 2002 as a result of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. We believed not simply that Al Qaeda was on the run, but that it had been smashed to bits.'" [New America Foundation, 10/22/07]
U.N. Report: Afghanistan Experienced More Violence in 2007 than Any Year Since 2001. "Afghanistan is currently suffering its most violent year since the 2001 U.S.-led intervention, according to an internal United Nations report that sharply contrasts with recent upbeat appraisals by President Bush and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai. ‘The security situation in Afghanistan is assessed by most analysts as having deteriorated at a constant rate through 2007,' said the report compiled by the Kabul office of the U.N. Department of Safety and Security. There were 525 security incidents — attacks by the Taliban and other violent groups, bombings, terrorism of other kinds, and abductions — every month during the first half of this year, up from an average of 425 incidents per month in 2006." [McClatchy, 10/1/07]
Admiral Mullen Said There Are Force Requirements in Afghanistan that We Cannot Meet Because of Our High Force Level in Iraq. Asked during a Pentagon press briefing what the military cannot do because of high force levels in Iraq, Admiral Mullen responded, "Well, what immediately comes to mind is additional forces for Afghanistan. And I've said Afghanistan is an economy-of-force campaign. And there are force requirements there that we can't currently meet. So having forces in Iraq don't -- at the level they're at don't allow us to fill the need that we have in Afghanistan." [Pentagon Press Briefing, 4/2/08]
Many of the Shi'a Political Leaders Empowered by the U.S. Are Deeply Tied to Iran. "Many of the Shi'a political leaders, whom the United States has empowered, spent years in exile in Iran during Saddam Hussein's rule. They maintain close political ties with Tehran. To take just one example, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which represents one of the two largest Shi'a political movements in Iraq, was originally formed in Iran. In addition, there is little doubt that Iran has contributed weapons and tactical guidance to some of the insurgent groups that have attacked American forces." [Rand Beers, Testimony Before the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, 2/28/08]
Iraq War Has Enhanced Iran's Influence in the Middle East. According to Iran expert Ray Takeyh, Iran has "not only survived the U.S. onslaught but also managed to enhance Iran's influence in the region. Iran now lies at the center of the Middle East's major problems -- from the civil wars unfolding in Iraq and Lebanon to the security challenge of the Persian Gulf -- and it is hard to imagine any of them being resolved without Tehran's cooperation." [Ray Takeyh, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2007]
Political Reality in Iraq Is a Weak and Divided Central Government "The emerging political reality in Iraq is a weak and divided central government with limited governing capacity. Mistrust among leaders in Baghdad remains high. Key ministerial posts have remained unfulfilled for months. Important legislation - on de-Ba'athification, amnesty, provincial powers and the budget - has passed, but implementation is uneven. The Iraqi security forces have been strengthened but remain far from able to sustain themselves or fight insurgents and militias on their own. Mixed loyalties within the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continue to pose a threat." [U.S. Institute of Peace, Iraq After the Surge: Options and Questions, April 2008]
Iraqi Politicians Have Papered Over Fundamental Differences on Power-Sharing Agreements to Give Appearance of Meeting Benchmarks. "Iraqi politicians have merely papered over fundamental differences on power-sharing arrangements that are necessary for long-term reconciliation in order to give the appearance of meeting the benchmarks President Bush, Prime Minister Maliki, and the U.S. Congress agreed are necessary to bring about reconciliation." [Center for American Progress, Where Does This End?, April 2008]
Recent Developments Have Exacerbated Tensions Among Iraq's Competing Sectarian and Ethnic Factions. "Indeed, the developments over the past year have actually exacerbated rather than lessened tensions between Iraq's competing sectarian and ethnic factions. Consequently, the Bush Administration has sacrificed its stated long-term strategic goal in Iraq - creating an Iraq that can govern, sustain, and defend itself - for some short-term unsustainable security gains and token legislative progress." [Center for American Progress, Where Does This End?, April 2008]
General Petraeus Said Just 25 Percent of Concerned Local Citizens Will Be Absorbed Into Iraqi Security Forces, Leaving the Rest at Risk of Returning to Their Old Ways. "Of the roughly 80,000 concerned local citizens currently working alongside U.S. forces, only 25 per cent can be absorbed into the army and police. For the rest, there must be jobs, or they risk becoming disillusioned, frustrated, and perhaps returning to their old ways. Gen. Petraeus told CBS News a week ago that this, above all else, was the thing that kept him awake at night." [CBS, 3/19/08]
Violence in Iraq Soared Last Week to the Highest Levels Since June, Particularly in Baghdad. "Attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces soared across Baghdad in the last week of March to the highest levels since the deployment of additional U.S. troops here reached full strength last June, according to U.S. military data and analysis… Over the week that began March 25, when the offensive began in Basra, there were 728 attacks against U.S. coalition forces, Iraqi security forces and civilians across Iraq, according to U.S. military data obtained by The Washington Post. Of these, 430 -- or almost 60 percent of the attacks -- occurred in Baghdad, the major focus of last year's buildup of 30,000 additional U.S. troops. The forces have begun to withdraw, and the rest are to be gone by the end of July." [Washington Post, 4/2/08]
Maliki's Basra Offensive Unraveled a Seven-Month Freeze on Armed Operations by the Mahdi Army Which Was Crucial to Reduced Violence. "The military campaign in the southern port of Basra, which the government says targeted all armed groups, unraveled a seven-month freeze on armed operations observed by the Mahdi Army that had been considered pivotal to Iraq's recent reduction in violence." [Los Angeles Times,4/7/08]
Officials Foresee No Ebb in Shiite Violence in Iraq. "When Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker brief Congress this week, they will be hard-pressed to depict Iraq as moving toward stability in the wake of recent violence that sent deaths soaring to their highest level in seven months... ‘We are now locked in a battle,' said a high-ranking Iraqi government official, who predicted more confrontations in the coming months. ‘I think this will be a hot summer in Iraq.'" [Los Angeles Times,4/7/08]
Even the Green Zone Has Been Attacked Amid Sharp Spike in Iraqi Violence. "Sharp fighting broke out in the Sadr City district of Baghdad on Sunday as American and Iraqi troops sought to control neighborhoods used by Shiite militias to fire rockets and mortars into the nearby Green Zone. But the operation failed to stop the attacks on the heavily fortified zone, headquarters for Iraq's central government and the American Embassy here. By day's end, at least two American soldiers had been killed and 17 wounded in the zone, one of the worst daily tolls for the American military in the most heavily protected part of Baghdad. Altogether, at least three American soldiers were killed and 31 wounded in attacks in Baghdad on Sunday, and at least 20 Iraqis were killed, mostly in Sadr City." [New York Times, 4/7/08]