Last Thursday, President Bush spoke with ten carefully-selected and prepped Troops serving in Iraq about “progress” on the ground. As reported by the Associated Press, the whole press conference was clearly staged. To read the transcript and/or see the video, click here.
If you haven’t already seen it, you won’t be surprised to hear that everyone said things were going just great in Iraq, especially the training of the Iraqi Army. Operation Truth posed the same questions to Iraq vets Bobby Yen and Perry Jefferies, and got some strikingly different answers...
PRESIDENT BUSH: How do you feel the operations are going?
BOBBY YEN: Violence is on a constant increase and our troops are spread thin. I'm hoping that the elections will change the mind and attitudes of the Iraqi people, but there's no logical reason that it really would. Troops could use more support, be it international or just more troops on ground.
PERRY JEFFERIES: Unevenly - to maintain the level of security like around this perimeter for the shoot - we'd need a lot more people
BUSH: One of the things that people in America want to know is, one, do the Iraqis want to fight, and are they capable of fighting. And maybe somebody can give us an appraisal.
YEN: Honestly, from when I was in Iraq training with the Iraqi National Guard, I would say they were extremely poorly prepared. They all seemed far more interested in the money than the job, and they were in poor physical shape. Their equipment was inferior and their training was rushed in order to make US deadlines. Maybe by now they have trained cadre and more time and better equipment, but I somehow doubt it...
JEFFERIES: Some Iraqis can fight but they aren't trusted and their equipment sucks. We don't have enough resources to treat them like the Americans and it sets up a have and have-not group. If you want to count on something getting done, you must rely on Americans.
BUSH: Let me ask you something. As you move around, I presume you have a chance to interface with the civilians there in that part of the world. And a lot of Americans are wondering whether or not people appreciate your presence or whether or not the people are anxious to be part of the democratic process. Can you give us a sense for the reception of the people there in Tikrit toward coalition forces, as well as the Iraqi units that they encounter?
YEN: In Mosul and Tal Afar and Dahok, all cities I've visited and met with the civilians, they seemed pretty friendly. Back when I was in Iraq all of Northern Iraq, the Kurdish areas, under the control of the 101st, were very peaceful, and the people were happy and loved Americans. When going into town to buy music from a local store, an old man came up to me and kissed me on the cheeks, thanking us for what we had done. This same old man encouraged me to kill Iraqis too (Kurds differ themselves from Arabs), so it's kind of a mixed message.
On the other hand, it's gotten far worse since then and I wouldn't even consider going to a music store with the situation as is. I can't imagine that too many troops can interact with the locals in a situation which isn't tense.
JEFFERIES: The people here (Tikrit) really just want us to leave.Some of them are okay and the kids like the stuff but a lot of them just seem to want handouts and then help the insurgents blast us. There's a lot of frustration here. These guys look down on most of the ISF and they are really close to the line with the way they handle civilians (the ISF). We have to watch them closely.
BUSH: Let me ask you about the progress. Most of you have been there for nearly a year, as I understand it. And is it possible to give us a sense, kind of a calibration of what life was like when you first got there, and what it's like today?
JEFFERIES: About the same - our positions improved and we are more used to what we do but the securitysituation is very variable and the IEDs more powerful. We get mortared every freakin' day. Why don't you come "back to Tikrit" Mr. President and check it out?
YEN: This is what always blows my mind. When I first arrived in Iraq I had the luck to be stationed in northern Iraq, with the 101st and in the Kurdish areas. Tal Afar, Mosul, Dahok, Suleimaniya. These areas were safe, without attack. The few attacks that had occured were Arab on Kurd violence. It was about 5 months in before the first car bomb. Prior to that, at Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), soldiers would stack their rifles and remove armor. They often lived in fortified houses within the community. In some places we were told that there was no need to keep our weapons at the ready as we drove through the city. People were sent to those cities often for R&R from "regular" Iraq.
By the time we left there had been 2 car bombs. We moved down to Baghdad, and as time went by the car bombs increased. The insurgents developed newer and better tactics. You hear a lot of things in the field, but an MP at one base told me that the insurgents were trying a new tactic, drugging their people up with PCP or some other drug and just charging the gate. Had happened a few times. In the Green Zone there were times when people in the intelligence community would tell us to keep our weapons near us, as they expected an attack on the compound.
By the time we left Iraq, car bombs were occuring about once every 2-3 days. Numerous times we would be at work and hear a loud explosion with no vibration, a car bomb going off nearby. One time, as we assembled for a convoy to another base, we were having a convoy briefing and an explosion sounded in the distance. Turned out to be a carbomb at the gate we were leaving through. We left anyways about a half hour later. Things got worse. A lot lot worse. Maybe it was on the way to getting better, but I didn't see it.