Saturday, June 18, 2005

Recruitment: while our numbers fail, the insurgents surge

By now regular readers of this site know that US Armed Forces recruitment efforts are going very badly.

Even with lowered standards, raised ages limits, and shorter enlistments, the Army is missing their recruitment goals, even after they quietly lowered them earlier this month. What is less well known is that our enemies in Iraq, are having no such trouble finding fresh young bodies to sacrifice to their cause.

Two articles appeared this week in the Washington Post, highlight the contrast. Taken togehter they show that BushCo's inept policies in Iraq are simultaneously driving away US recruits in droves, and radicalizing the entire middle east, creating huge pools of trained, well equipped and wealthy volunteers, for the insurgency.

While our manpower is running dangerously low, we've created previously unthinkable alliances between radical religious clerics and the secular Islamic governments that used to suppress them, allowing free movement for a flood of arms, money and radical young men willing to fight in Iraq.

In short: We're really screwed.

First, we look at the crisis facing the US Armed forces, and a Brass willing to re-make every mistake of Vietnam before admitting it has a problem:

In an an Op-ed that ran this Sunday, a Retired Maj. General (*2* stars-thanks kalidescope) cleanly lays out the crisis

Nearly every day, anywhere from one to several U.S. soldiers or Marines die in Iraq, and even more are wounded...To keep our forces strong, every soldier we lose or who leaves the service has to be replaced by a new recruit. Their leaders, meanwhile -- the men who take them into combat and help determine the outcome of many battles -- can only be
replaced by soldiers who gain experience and undertake many years of leadership training.

Apparently the prospect of getting one's ass shot off for a vaguely defined war with hazy goals is no longer appealing to today's average high school graduate. In fact the recruitment crisis we are just now hearing about really started in 2003, right about the time it became clear that impossible as it may seem, the Photo-op was wrong, and the mission wasn't accomplished:

The recruiting problems first became apparent in the late summer of 2003, when the surplus of enlistees disappeared and the Army went into the next fiscal year without any cushion. Since then, recruiting numbers have been declining. An alarming trend -- fewer young people signing up than the Army needs to maintain its strength -- began to develop last fall.

And Now its gotten really Bad:

the Army has failed to meet its monthly recruiting goals since February. On Friday, it said that in May it reached only 75 percent of a goal it had already reduced from 8,050 to 6,700. The National Guard and Reserve, which provide more than 40 percent of the Army forces in Iraq, are experiencing even more trouble; so far, the National Guard has reached only 76 percent of its recruiting goals for this year.

Even those numbers are misleading because they don't mention of the ways in which the Army has been desperately trying to shore up those numbers, including lowering its standards to attract recruits it would have rejected out of hand just a few years ago:

The Army added 1,200 recruiters last month, and it has significantly increased its advertising budget and enlistment bonuses, from $6,000 for most recruits to $20,000. At the same time, it has raised the eligible age for the Army National Guard or the Reserve from 35 to 39. Even more telling, the Army is also accepting more recruits who are not high school graduates. This year, the percentage of high school graduates among those enlisting dropped from 92.4 to barely 90 percent, the Army's stated floor for the number of recruits who must have a high school diploma.

and this failure of recruiting is having even wider repercussions as it is chasing out the Army's best and brightest, particularly at the NCO levels:

An equally dangerous challenge facing the Army is the loss of experienced soldiers who leave the service after undergoing the demands of combat multiple times over several years.

I recently chatted with one such soldier, who told me that after participating in the invasion of Iraq, he remained there for a year and then returned to the United States, where he was transferred to a different unit. Only four months after he got home, his new unit deployed to Iraq. He has just returned from there again. His enlistment ends in less than a year, but he fully expects to go back to Iraq before that year is up and to serve another full year in Iraq under stop loss.

In addition to gaining extensive combat experience, this soldier finished two years of college while in the Army. He is exactly the type of soldier essential to the service's future:

. Unfortunately, he told me that he'll leave the Army as soon as he can -- not from bitterness, but because he's weary of combat and saddened at the loss of friends.

and to replace these experienced, seasoned veterans the Army is rushing poorly trained, badly organized, units with little experience and no cohesion. As a result, casualty rates among these soldiers will likely soar.:

Now, the Army's latest desperate attempt to gain recruits is a shortened, 15-month enlistment policy. A 15-month enlistment means that soldiers will receive only basic and advanced individual training, but none of the team and unit training our premier soldiers traditionally receive.

These recruits will be shipped off to war after only five months of training, deployed to units in combat where they know no one. These inexperienced soldiers will be at an enormous disadvantage and the casualties among them will be bound to reflect that disadvantage.

For those of you keeping score this is the same stupid idea we had at the end of the Vietnam war which is very likely to produce the same stupid result. Nice to know we are so good at learning from history eh?

Now Lets look in on the "Bad Guys", those nasty foreign fighters in Iraq whom the Pentagon like to blame for everything but the weather in Iraq.

Despite supposedly losing every engagement with US troops. They seem to be having no recruiting troubles at all. The WaPo had an excellent first person account from A Syrian Smuggler who fought in Iraq and is active in recruiting others to do the same

His side hasn't had any recruiting troubles since day one:

When the Americans led the invasion of Iraq, the men of Abu Ibrahim's family gathered in the courtyard of their shared home in the far north of Syria. Ten slips of paper were folded into a plastic bag, and they drew lots. The five who opened a paper marked with ink would go to Iraq and fight. The other five would stay behind.
Abu Ibrahim drew a blank. But remaining in Syria did not mean staying clear of the war. This 32-yr old has worked diligently to shuttle other young Arab men into Iraq, stocking the insurgency that has killed hundreds of U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis.

The stream of fighters -- most of them Syrians, but lately many of them Saudis, -- has sustained and replenished the hardest core of the Iraq insurgency, and supplied many of its suicide bombers. ...

"They think jihad will stop if they kill hundreds of us in Iraq," Abu Ibrahim said with a note of defiance. "They don't know what they are facing. Every day, more and more young men from around the Muslim world are awaking and coming to the jihad principle.

"Now the Americans are facing thousands, but one day soon they will have to face whole nations."

For members of Ibrahim's sect, Salafism (the Muslim equivalent to evangelical fundamentalists), Iraq was stocked with its two greatest enemies, the Infidel west, as represented by the US, and Muslim heretics, that is both the Shi'ites and Kurds. One of the reasons the insurgency has been so willing to target Iraqi civilians is because to them, most of them are every bit a much the enemy as the US soldiers. Worse yet the most radical of the Salafisists can be found in our supposed ally Saudi Arabia:

{Ibrahim follows]Salafism, or "following the pious forefathers," it is a fundamentalist, sometimes militant strain of the faith grounded in turning back the clock to the time of the prophet Muhammad.
"a group of young men through my wife's family who spoke to me the true words of Islam. They told me Sufism was forbidden and the Shiites are infidels."...

A year later, he went to Saudi Arabia, a kingdom founded on Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Islam in the Salafi wing.

The reason you've likely never heard of this movement is that for years the secular government of Syria has actively suppressed them and others like them, but that was before our idiot Neo-con Imperialists started openly threatening to invade them :

Such views were unwelcome back in Syria, governed by the Baathist Party as a secular nation. Abu Qaqaa, a lanky, charismatic sheik born Mahmoud Quul Aghassi, preached the same radical message that Abu Ibrahim had taken to heart in Riyadh....{after one anti-american demonstration}Abu Qaqaa was arrested by the Syrian authorities, but he was released within hours.

In a dictatorship infamous for its intolerance of political Islam, such freedom made some of the cleric's lieutenants suspicious.

"We asked the sheik why we weren't being arrested," said Abu Ibrahim. "He would tell us it was because we weren't saying anything against the government, that we were focusing on the common enemy, America and Israel, that beards and epaulets were in one trench together


And that was BEFORE the invasion afterwards all hell broke loose

when] The United States led troops into Iraq, and everything went up a notch.

Worried that it would be Washington's next target, Syria opposed the military coalition invading its neighbor. State media issued impassioned calls for "resistance." The nation's senior Sunni cleric, Grand Mufti Ahmad Kaftaro, undid his reputation for moderation by issuing a fatwa endorsing suicide attacks.

In Aleppo, Abu Ibrahim went door to door encouraging young men to cross the border. Volunteers boarded buses that Syrian border guards waved through wide-open gates, witnesses recalled.

So thanks to the Yapping of PNAC Neo-cons and BushCo officials who were content to posture and threaten instead of attempting actual diplomacy, Syria Lifted its thumb on hordes of Syrian radicals who became a highly trained an organized backbone of the Iraqi insurgency:

We had specific meeting places for Iraqi smugglers," Abu Ibrahim said. "They wouldn't do the trip if we had fewer than 15 fighters. We would drive across the border and then into villages on the Iraqi side. And from there the Iraqi contacts would take the mujaheddin to training camps."

Of course most Syrian recruits (unlike our puppet Iraqi security force) were already trained and battle ready:

Because Syrian men already had served two years of compulsory military service, most of them skipped the training. "It's mostly the Saudis who need the training," Abu Ibrahim said.

Afterward, the fighters were sent to join small cells usually led by Iraqis. They planted booby traps for U.S. convoys and laid ambushes.

Young men are fighting with zeal and passion," Abu Ibrahim said. "There are Saudi officers, Syrians, Iraqis. But not those who fought for Saddam. The man who is leading it for the most part is Zarqawi."

who Despite what BushCo would have you believe had no ties to Osama and Al-qaeda until very recently:

"Six months ago, Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden were different," he said. "Osama did not consider the killing of Shiites as legitimate. Zarqawi did that. Anyone -- Christian, Jew, Sunni, Shiites -- whoever cooperates with the Americans can be killed. It's a holy war."

And in part because of that Accord between Osama and Zarqawi, a whole new source of support has sprung up for the insurgency; This time is our dear ally and close friend Saudi Arabia. Saudi fighters may not be as well trained as the Syrian jihaddists, but what they lack in skills they make up for in Cash:

"Our brothers in Iraq are asking for Saudis," he said last month. "The Saudis go with enough money to support themselves and their Iraqi brothers. A week ago, we sent a Saudi to the jihad. He went with 100,000 Saudi riyals," or about $27,000. "There was celebration amongst his brothers there!"

So there you have it. A tale of two armies, one struggling mightily to maintain its strength, the other surging to new heights of strength every day. The thing they have in common? Both are brought to their present state by the bumbling stumbling incompetence of our leaders in Washington.

It's one thing to rail and scream against the staggering ineptitude of Bush and his cronies; but its important to fully appreaciate how much damage they are really doing, both to us, and to the furture of the world.

We must remember that their missteps, their arrogance and duplicity has real live consequences that will echo around the world long after they are justly discarded on the ash heap of history. Its not enough to let this war go on and glory in the Schadenfruede of watching Neo-cons dreams of Empire turn to ashes in their mouths. We must use all our voice and strength to demand we end this war as soon as possible. Our fate as a nation, and the shape of the world for decades to come could depend on it.


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