The News Magazine of the Mysteries
"elusive and inexhaustible enemy"
"success" is "elusive"
"inexhaustible enemy emboldened by the US presence"
"gradual . . . erosion" in public support
"millions of Iraqis will vote on a constitution that threatens to further split the country"
"beleaguered US mission in Iraq"
"unwinnable military fight"
"series of failures"
"hardened local fighters"
"politically compromised outcome"
"dangers, dilemmas, and frustrations that still haunt the US in Iraq"
"temporary tactical gains"
"doubts about whether anything resembling victory can still be achieved"
"powerless to do anything" about atrocities
"intelligence suggests insurgents are displaying their mettle"
"This enemy is not a rabble."
"shaken US officer"
"troops . . . embittered"
"insurgents proving so resiliant"
It's possible that the author, Michael Ware, has a certain point of view and he is certainly entitled to it. The problem I had, reading it, was with the who, what, where, when of the narrative. What really happened at Tal-Afar? Let's consider the battlefield metric of casualties. How many enemy troops died? Ware's answer is found in two places, suggestive, atmospheric and devoid of particulars.
Two weeks after the start of the offensive, the military claimed more than 200 insurgents killed.
Only one blackened corpse, left rotting for days, is found. "They've even removed their dead," said a Green Beret, not really believing it himself.
The impression conveyed is that US casualties were much heavier. We almost come to know each and every one.
Eight Delta men are wounded, two so seriously that an AC-130 Spectre gunship has to give a medevac covering fire to get the wounded to a combat-hospital operating theater in time to save them. Elsewhere, an improvised explosive device detonates under a Bradley fighting vehicle, blowing off its lid and killing a young medic who, though based in the rear, had volunteered to enter the fighting fray. A few feet forward, the toll would have been worse, killing the Bradley commander and his gunner. "This is a war of inches," says a shaken U.S. officer.
And although Ware does not adopt a categorical estimate of casualties on either side, his account if used by historians of the far future to reconstruct the Battle of Tal-Afar would probably lead to something like this:
Two groups of men fought in a place called Tal-Afar about 3,532 years ago. One group of men, called 'insurgents', soundly defeated another group called Americans, and their allies the Kurds, but for reasons unclear in the manuscript fragments, the insurgents evacuated the battlefield although they could hardly be pressed by the Americans, who were apparently a people who frequently cursed, yelled and ran from place to place in fear.
That is what Ware's dispatch conveys as an account, not as an opinion piece. However, if this other fragment were found it would immediately precipitate a crisis among future scholars trying to interpret its assertions in light of what the Ware story depicted. (Hat tip: DL)
-- fragment of manuscript starts
SEC. RUMSFELD: Good afternoon, folks. As the country continues the challenging task of recovery from Hurricane Katrina, coalition forces continue to make inroads against the terrorists in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
On Sunday the people of Afghanistan voted in their second successful democratic election in less than one year. These were their provincial and parliamentary elections. Terrorists have done everything in their power to try to intimidate the millions of Afghan voters and the literally thousands, in this case of the most recent election, thousands of candidates from participating in their elections. And they failed this week, just as they failed in the successful presidential elections.
Think of it. The country that hosted Osama bin Laden, that supported training camps for al Qaeda, endured decades of civil war, Soviet occupation, drought, Taliban brutality, is now a democracy that fights terrorists instead of harboring them. The Afghan people's courage should be a stunning reminder to all of those seemingly self- confident prognosticators who foresaw an Afghan quagmire. They were not just wrong, they were harmful by making the cause seem hopeless. Let me remind you of just a few examples.
"The war effort is in deep trouble. The United States is not headed into a quagmire, it is already in one." That was The L.A. Times. That was five days before Mazar fell.
"The question was suspended like a spore in the autumn air: Are we quagmiring ourselves again?" That was The New York Times.
"Without a clear exit strategy, another generation of American servicemen may be sucked into a quagmire in a foreign land." That was, I think, the Dallas Morning News. And there were many, many others.
Thankfully, millions of Afghans were determined to prove them wrong. A determined coalition put a plan in place -- yes, there was a plan -- adjusted it as needed -- and it did need to be adjusted, as all war plans do -- and followed a steady course despite the cassandras of the West echoing the predictions of the terrorists. I mention this because many who were so quick to predict gloom on Afghanistan are today eager to toss it in on Iraq, claiming that it's hopeless. But the Iraqi people and the coalition have a plan for Iraq, just as there was a plan for Afghanistan.
Consider the following. Have the Iraqis been able to form a government that realistically incorporates the views of the various responsible factions in Iraq? Yes, they have. Have Iraqis successfully held representative elections? The answer is yes. Have they now succeeded in drafting a constitution that accords respect for individual rights? Indeed they have. Are the insurgents gaining or losing the support of the Iraqi people? President Talabani recently spoke in the United States about this. He noted that the vast majority of Iraqis, including Sunnis, want to participate in the political process and have been disgusted, and indeed, outraged by the barbarism of the extremists. Finally, despite the critics, are the Iraqi security forces growing in size and capability and allowing the Iraqi government to secure areas with coalition support? Yes, this too is happening. Iraqi security forces now number over 190,000.
Last week, for example, the people of Tall Afar were liberated from the grip of insurgents and foreign extremists who had tried to turn the city into a base of planning operations and training. A number of insurgents were caught fleeing the city dressed in women's clothing -- hardly a sign of a confident group supported by the citizenry.
-- fragment of manuscript ends
The only thing that will matter in the long run is not which opinion was better expressed, but which of these two stories was true.