Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fatigue cripples US army in Iraq

A marine asleep at his base in Falluja, Iraq. Photograph: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty images

Exhaustion and combat stress are besieging US troops in Iraq as they battle with a new type of warfare. Some even rely on Red Bull to get through the day. As desertions and absences increase, the military is struggling to cope with the crisis

Peter Beaumont in Baghdad
Sunday August 12, 2007
The Observer

Where once the war in Iraq was defined in conversations with these men by untenable ideas - bringing democracy or defeating al-Qaeda - these days the war in Iraq is defined by different ways of expressing the idea of being weary. It is a theme that is endlessly reiterated as you travel around Iraq. "The army is worn out. We are just keeping people in theatre who are exhausted," says a soldier working for the US army public affairs office who is supposed to be telling me how well things have been going since the "surge" in Baghdad began.

They are not supposed to talk like this. We are driving and another of the public affairs team adds bitterly: "We should just be allowed to tell the media what is happening here. Let them know that people are worn out. So that their families know back home. But it's like we've become no more than numbers now.

The first soldier starts in again. "My husband was injured here. He hit an improvised explosive device. He already had a spinal injury. The blast shook out the plates. He's home now and has serious issues adapting. But I'm not allowed to go back home to see him. If I wanted to see him I'd have to take leave time (two weeks). And the army counts it."

A week later, in the northern city of Mosul, an officer talks privately. "We're plodding through this," he says after another patrol and another ambush in the city centre. "I don't know how much more plodding we've got left in us."

Photo from www.incommunion.org
When the soldiers talk like this there is resignation. There is a corrosive anger, too, that bubbles out, like the words pouring unbidden from a chaplain's assistant who has come to bless a patrol. "Why don't you tell the truth? Why don't you journalists write that this army is exhausted?"

[Read the whole tiresome report here.]

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