A Growing Military Credibility Gap?

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by Larry C Johnson

Today brought sad news that someone with the U.S. military Multi National Force — Iraq (MNF-I) lied about an attack on U.S. soldiers in the Shia-controlled city of Karabala on Saturday, 20 January 2007. The initial story released to the press stated:

KARBALA, Iraq (CNN) — Attackers who killed five U.S. troops at a government building in Karbala posed as U.S. military officials to get past Iraqi guards, a Karbala police spokesman said.

The attack happened Saturday as the U.S. military convened a meeting to discuss security for Ashura, the upcoming Shiite pilgrimage to Karbala.

According to police spokesman Abdul Rahman al-Mishawi, about 30 gunmen traveling in a convoy of at least seven SUVs with tinted windows — similar to the vehicles used by top U.S. military officials — drove up to the Karbala Provincial Joint Coordination Center wearing uniforms similar to those worn by the U.S. military.

About a dozen U.S. troops were inside the compound at the time, al-Mishawi said.
Today, we got Rosanna Rosanna Danna. As far as the first version is concerned, NEVER MIND. Instead of 30 attackers there were only 12. But it is the other details that makes the story truly alarming. Here's what happened according to the Associated Press:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - In perhaps the boldest and most sophisticated attack in four years of warfare, gunmen speaking English, wearing U.S. military uniforms and carrying American weapons abducted four U.S. soldiers last week at the provincial headquarters in the Shiite holy city of Karbala and then shot them to death.

The U.S. military confirmed a report earlier Friday by The Associated Press that three of the soldiers were dead and one was mortally wounded with a gunshot to the head when they were found in a neighboring province, about 25 miles from the compound where they were captured. A fifth soldier was killed in the initial attack on the compound.

The new account contradicted a U.S. military statement on Jan. 20, the day of the raid on an Iraqi governor's office, that five soldiers were killed "repelling" the attack. . . .

The brazen assault, 50 miles south of Baghdad, was conducted by nine to 12 gunmen posing as an American security team, the military confirmed. The attackers traveled in black GMC Suburban vehicles (the type used by U.S. government convoys), had American weapons, wore new U.S. military combat fatigues, and spoke English, according to two senior U.S. military officials as well as Iraqi officials.

The confirmation came after nearly a week of inquiries. The U.S. military in Baghdad initially did not respond to repeated requests for comment on reports that began emerging from Iraqi government and military officials on the abduction and a major breakdown in security at the Karbala site.

Within hours of the AP report that four of the five dead soldiers had been abducted and found dead or dying about 25 miles east of Karbala, the military issued a long account of what took place.

"The precision of the attack, the equipment used and the possible use of explosives to destroy the military vehicles in the compound suggests that the attack was well rehearsed prior to execution," said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, spokesman for Multi-National Division-Baghdad.

"The attackers went straight to where Americans were located in the provincial government facility, bypassing the Iraqi police in the compound," he said. "We are looking at all the evidence to determine who or what was responsible for the breakdown in security at the compound and the perpetration of the assault."
At the very moment we are surging troops into Baghdad, who will be scattered in small outposts throughout the city and will have to rely on Iraqi soldiers to protect them, we learn belatedly that someone in Iraq is dressing up in US military uniforms, carrying US weapons, and speaking English like a gringo. You know what this means? U.S. soldiers who were already skeptical about the trustworthiness of their Iraqi counterparts will now also have to question whether the U.S. soldier coming towards them is really a U.S. soldier.

The planning evident in this operation is sophisticated and points clearly to the uncomfortable fact that someone within the Iraqi military, who was knowledgeable about the meeting, tipped off the bad guys. It could have been Iranians retaliating for the earlier U.S. attacks on Iranian diplomats inside Iraq or maybe it was someone with a militia group with a grudge to settle. Regardless, it is bad news all around.

Equally disturbing is the fact that someone in the U.S. military chain of command lied about what happened and put out false information to the press and the American people. It is one thing to lie in order to preserve operational security. It is another thing to lie simply to cover your ass so you do not look like a complete fool. Unfortunately, when the lie is uncovered the charge of being a "fool" is the least of the blowback. An incident like this also raises an important question, "Can the military be trusted to tell the truth?" If the American people begin to doubt they are getting the straight information about the situation on the ground in Iraq, the ebbing public support could turn into a complete rout.

Maybe the soldiers who put out the lie about what happened in Karbala took their clue from Dick Cheney, who triumphantly announced to Wolf Blitzer earlier this week that things in Iraq are going swimmingly and we are enjoying enormous success. I guess the U.S. military decided that this attack was just another benchmark of our glorious Iraqi success. Break out the champagne and wave the victory flag. Mission Accomplished!!!! Meanwhile, the families of five U.S. soldiers are weeping for their loved ones and preparing to bury them. And they died for what?

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