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November 9, 2005

Boots Off The Ground

Helicopterwait2A

How much of an impression is the U.S. military really making on the situation in Iraq?

According to an innocuous story this week inside the L.A. Times (Troops Have a Nervous Ride to Nighttime Raid – link), hidden bombs in Iraq have become so abundant and powerful, the military not only avoids the use of Humvees, but has started to forsake appears to be looking for a safer alternative to Bradley fighting vehicles and M-1 tanks, as well.  In fact, it seems that many American troops have largely given up on ground travel all together, relying instead on helicopters to ferry them to and from raids.

Times Staff Writer Louise Roug, traveling with a 700 person California national guard unit that has lost 11 soldiers and suffered more than 100 casualties since mid-September, was told of a peculiar quirk resulting from the new transportation.  The helicopters kick up so much dust that when soldiers take off their goggles, they look like raccoons.

Helicopterwait1A

The fact that ever more sophisticated explosives and land mines (still often innocently referred to as “road side bombs”) have severely impeded U.S. operations does not seem apparent from the  typical combat photos we see in the MSM.  At the same time, the recent collection of newswire images at YahooNews suggests otherwise.  A new popular shot is the one in which soldiers wait around for helicopters like riders killing time at the bus stop.

(revised 10/10/05. 12:51 am PST)

(image 1 & 2: Jorge Silva/Reuters. October 23, 2005. Tikrit, Iraq. Via YahooNews.)

  • readytoblowagasket

    Wow. I’ve read accounts about the sand (from an American’s experience of it) “getting into” every nook and cranny and orifice, but these beautiful photographs tell me so much more. The top photo makes the soldiers look like they are sinking into the desert; cropping the one soldier’s legs at the knees only heightens the effect as the other soldier’s feet are being swallowed up. Here we have a visual example of the high-tech vs. low-tech contest we’ve been discussing lately: Tiny grains of sand appear to be winning against the living, breathing (cough! cough!) creature with a brain whose own mechanical ingenuity — evidenced by the eerie flying-machine behemoth in the distance and the bulk of heavy gear the men wear — has literally stopped him in his tracks.
    It makes me think of the pictures of the early flying machines and man’s efforts to conquer wind and gravity — and how silly those machines look to us now. But are we really going forward in time, or are we going backward?

  • Smasher

    The bottom shot kind of reminds me of Sargent’s painting of gassed British soldiers from World War One. I think Sargent’s painting has become one of those images gets folded into the general lexicon as “infantry in war.” (I’ve seen a number of similar images, especially from the Vietam war, of soldiers standing in a line, waiting for what happens next.)
    There’s more about Sargent’s painting at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/lj/warslj/art_gassed.shtml .
    A great book to read: “The Great War and Modern Memory,” by Paul Fussell. He talks about how the Great War experience has been folded into our cultural memory and common experience–and not necessarily in ways which are very obvious or recognisable at first glance.

  • itwasntme

    Great photos. We are being left in the dust. The small destroying the large. Lost in the fog. Wandering in the desert. So many trite metaphores shown here so beautifully. I guess we are at the stage here where our troops are just flying over the civil war below. I wonder what the smaller truths of this war are? Has ANY good come out of this misbegotten fiasco? Another feeling from the photos – I want these young men to come home.

  • Purple

    Smasher, that’s an interesting Sargent comparison.

  • http://www.radarblog.blogspot.com Radar

    This is an interesting article. I wonder why you describe the LA Times article as “innocuous”? Also, I’m not sure why you made up that bit about the Army not using A1M1 tanks or Bradley’s anymore – that’s not in the article. You claim that the roadside bombs have severly limited combat capabilities in Iraq – where’d you get that from?
    The LA Times article is a great piece of journalism that describes the ongoing valor of our troops in Iraq. That’s what I see.
    Hey, and since the bombs are getting so much better, why don’t you wonder about that more? Are they coming from Syria and Iran?

  • Rafael

    No need for the bombs to come from Syria or Iran. The fiction of the “foreign fighter” is a convinient one for the Pentagon and the war supporters. “See its not the Iraqis that are resisting us, it those darn Al-Qaeda bastards.”
    Iraq was (and still is) the repository of millions of tons of high explosives, explosives that ironically were payed for in part by both Gorbachev and Reagan. The bulk of the munitions used as mines (which is what they are, IED is one stupid acronym) are 155mm shells, shells that were ment to be used by the G5 155mm howitzer, a mainstay of the Iraqi Army for many years.
    And let us not forget the many tons of explosives that the U.S. failed to secure during the invasion.

  • Rafael

    Money quote:
    [blockquote]Soldiers now stay away from Humvees when they can, preferring Bradley fighting vehicles or M-1 tanks instead. But even those cannot withstand the more powerful bombs. Recently, one 60-ton Abrams tank was lifted off the ground when it hit 1,000 pounds of explosives, leaving a 15-foot-wide crater. Two soldiers were killed in the blast.[/blockquote]
    For the record an M1A2 weighs over 60 tons. Lifting one of these monsters of the ground is quite the “achivement.” The article seems to imply that the men from Delta Company are now taling to the air since the ground is so dangerous. Of course, the air has its own problems, mostly light machine gun fire, RPGs and SA-7s can also bring down whirlybirds with relative ease. And when a Blackhawk goes down you may end up with as many as 15 casualties (crew of 4 and 11 troops). Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    He who fights against the weak – and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed – and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses :
    To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish.

  • jt from B.C.

    The first photo reminds me of facing 50 mph winds in a polar region with the temperature at -40 degrees, surrounded by nothing but vast empty spaces. Excluding temperature difference I viscerally relate to these soldiers. I often thought of ‘the shifting sands of time’ metaphor, when my world turned into howling winds and driving snow. I hear cursing and feel their helplessness being in an unfamiliar and an unforgiving environment.
    Here my visceral relationship ends, as I recall one overly friendly inhabitant offering his wife’s company to cheer me up while I was working in his territory.
    These are fascinating photographs.
    I demand the soldiers come home, rather than wish.
    On a lighter note and from the group pic, Could they still be looking for WMD?

  • momly

    The soldier in the foreground seems to be looking at himself covered in dust in disgust. From what I have read about the dust, i imagine he is fairly disgusted to be covered in it.
    Now, if only we could see a picture of Congress covered in the blood of all killed in this war with much the same expression.

  • jt from B.C.

    MonsieurGonzo,
    Enjoyed the quote, here’s mine:
    “Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life.” Bertold Brecht.
    This war suggests to me that each individual of the occupation forces are living an inadequate life.

  • The BAG

    Radar,
    Thanks for the critique. Sometimes, I have a tendency to make inferences without showing how I got there. The article states that:
    Soldiers now stay away from Humvees when they can, preferring Bradley fighting vehicles or M-1 tanks instead. But even those cannot withstand the more powerful bombs. Recently, one 60-ton Abrams tank was lifted off the ground when it hit 1,000 pounds of explosives, leaving a 15-foot-wide crater.
    I didn’t mean to imply that the military has given up the use of the M-1 tank — and I realize the article doesn’t say that either — at least, not specifically. (In fact, this paragraph specifically states that these tanks have been the option of choice given the level of threat.)
    At the same time, however, the reason I see the article as significant (even if the point is related primarily through the experience of this one encounter between the reporter and the unit) has to do with the obvious and growing choice to seek other, still safer options — in this case, the helicopter — given the growing “unpalatability” of the standard armor.

  • Megan

    “How much of an impression is the U.S. military really making on the situation in Iraq?”
    In these pictures, the military isn’t influencing Iraq at all. Instead, the Iraqi desert is transforming the soldiers. They’re covered in the desert dust, all color and contrast has been leached out of them. The front man is aware that the desert is absorbing him; the back man is watching the desert come for him.
    And the military can’t make an impression on this landscape at all. There are no permanent works in these pictures; nothing to leave evidence of military or American influence. No amount of American intervention could plant corn, or apple trees, or picket fences here. Forget being “improved”, the desert in this picture can’t even be harmed. Blow a crater in it, and it will look the same. This desert is swallowing those soldiers whole, and it will look the same when it is done.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    Sympathy for the Devil
    One year ago this week, US-led occupying forces launched a devastating assault on the Iraqi city of Falluja. The mood was set by Lt Col Gary Brandl: “The enemy has got a face. He’s called Satan. He’s in Falluja. And we’re going to destroy him.”
    The assault was preceded by eight weeks of aerial bombardment. US troops cut off the city’s water, power and food supplies, condemned as a violation of the Geneva convention by a UN special rapporteur, who accused occupying forces of “using hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population”. Two-thirds of the city’s 300,000 residents fled, many to squatters’ camps without basic facilities.
    As the siege tightened, the Red Cross, Red Crescent and the media were kept out, while males between the ages of 15 and 55 were kept in. US sources claimed between 600 and 6,000 insurgents were holed up inside the city – which means that the vast majority of the remaining inhabitants were non-combatants.
    On November 8, 10,000 US troops, supported by 2,000 Iraqi recruits, equipped with artillery and tanks, supported from the air by bombers and helicopter gunships, blasted their way into a city the size of Leicester. It took a week to establish control of the main roads; another two before victory was claimed.
    The city’s main hospital was selected as the first target…

  • ummabdulla

    Apparently, most of the insurgents are Iraqis and the number of “foreign” fighters is pretty small. But isn’t it ironic that AMERICAN officials stand there in Iraq and use the label “FOREIGN” against Arab, Muslim men from that region? Every time they say that, the journalists should laugh…
    Let’s say that some Syrian men from the border towns helped Iraqis from border towns. So what? They share a language, a culture, a religion, and they might even be relatives, too. They’re only separated by national borders that were drawn by some colonial powers and which don’t really mean much in reality.
    It’s as if the Chinese invaded and occupied the U.S. state of Maryland and then were outraged that the Marylanders fought back, and then were even more upset that “foreigners” were supporting the insurgents in Maryland – those “foreigners” being residents of D.C., Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
    Anyway, a favorite line when I was in the military was “Hurry up and wait” – meaning that we were always being rushed and ordered to go somewhere and line up for something, just to end up waiting a long time – and the second photo reminds me of that.

  • GP

    Given the contents of the article, what the images highlight is stagnation. Nobody is going anywhere, and they don’t seem to know where they are or where they would go even if they could. The troops are stranded until they get help from above, but instead of looking up they are looking down. Obviously, they want to avoid getting more sand in their faces, but the visual suggestion is that they have (at least temporarily) given up hope of a reprieve from the sky.
    I won’t elaborate on how this reflects the U.S. position in Iraq.

  • jt from B.C.

    “..the journalists should laugh…” unfortunately ummabadulla, that’s a luxury they can’t afford, at least not in public, for personal/professional reasons, which I’m sure your well aware of.
    I like others, following these MSM, ORWELLIAN reports , can however respond with laughter. This response for me then proceeds to annoyance, anger and finally to a state of amazement at the incredulity of it all.
    I enjoyed your what if comparisons, particularly the inclusion of the Chinese. (I detect in the MSM a gradual return to “the yellow menace/peril” theme, especially on television.)
    How would the US reply to a UK threat to bomb Boston or New York, if stronger measures were not taken to curb, “known Irish groups and individuals” which “provide moral and financial assistance to the IRA”? is one of my favorite scenario’s.
    Further to a previous speculation, “looking for WMD”- closer scrutiny suggests they are reworking the Bush WH skit, “Nope ! no WMD’s here…”

  • mad

    American forces are most assuredly staying away from Humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles and M1 tanks, because for the most part they are staying on their bases. Military and political leadership is trying to minimize the loss of American lives by keeping the troops off the streets and out of trouble– except for the occasional massive attack on towns suspected of harboring enemy fighters. And civilians.
    Even so, we are losing American soldiers at the rate of three a day now, and uncounted and untold numbers of Iraqis are dying every day.
    For what?

  • fotonique

    Sargent’s Gassed and Leroux’s Hell displayed in the Miltary Images & Media Forum at Iran Defence.Net.
    Elsewhere, Iran Desert (1980) vs. Iraq Desert.

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