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November 02, 2005

Noah Schachtman Reports from Iraq

Noah Schachtman of the always-excellent DefenseTech is back from Iraq:

Defense Tech: Iraq Diary Archives: [T]hat day-and-a-smidge shift with "Team Mayhem," a U.S. Army bomb squad, winds up being pretty damn action-packed. Booby traps, smoking mortars, rooftop gunfire, suspected truck bombs, roadside explosives, and an idiosyncratic little robot named "Rainman" all figure prominently in the story, which appears in this month's Wired magazine. Mostly, though, the article is about the battle of wits that's being fought between high-tech U.S. military squads and low-tech insurgent bombers. Improvised explosives have become the deadliest threat to soldiers and civilians alike in Iraq. So the winner of this fight largely determines the fate of the counterinsurgency.

But getting a clear picture of this tangle has been tough; military bomb squads, or "explosive ordnance disposal" units, are ordinarily shrouded in secrecy, operating in shadows. This is one of the first times they've allowed a reporter in for an extended stay....

Noah goes on to say that morale among our soldiers is high:

[M]orale among these infantrymen and engineers and bomb-disposers was high. Shockingly high, given the fact that they didn’t buy the Bush administration’s rationales for the war. “Democracy? Here? Are you f---ing kidding me?” one sergeant laughed, as we drove near the Abu Ghraib prison.... He figures the place will collapse into civil war as soon as U.S. troops leave. But he’s glad he’s in Iraq, regardless. Mostly, because of the insurgents.

The guerrillas in Iraq have been brutal, killing way more innocent bystanders than American occupiers or Iraqi collaborators.... “It boggles my mind, how someone can go into a crowd of kids, and kill them all. I’ll never understand it. But that’s why I’m here,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Palmer, with the 717th Ordnance Disposal Company, an Army bomb squad.... U.S. troops are highly trained. So they’ll do what they’re ordered. But in order to feel good about their mission, they need a cause.... The insurgents have been only too happy to step collectively into the role of Dr. Doom.... Most of these GIs were ready to whoop ass, when they first get to Iraq. They’re part of America’s professional, increasingly-permanent military class. Which means they’ve been training for years to go to war – with precious few full-out battles to fight.... I’d say three in four of the GIs I spoke with were planning to reenlist. The new, fat bonuses are one reason, of course. But another is the sense that there are real-life psychopaths out there that need to be stopped. It may sound corny. It may sound dumb. But that’s what I saw.

No, it doesn't sound dumb. It sounds brave.

Posted by DeLong at November 2, 2005 09:57 AM