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Let U.S. soldiers fight terror


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Let U.S. soldiers fight terror

Donald Lambro (archive)

September 4, 2003 | Print | Send

WASHINGTON -- One overriding strategic goal convinced President Bush to seek a U.N.-sanctioned, international peacekeeping force in Iraq: So that U.S. soldiers can concentrate on finding, capturing and killing the terrorists.

From the beginning of occupying Iraq, U.S. military leaders have doubted whether they can fulfill dual roles -- policing the country (which is not part of their primary training) and going after the remnants of Saddam Hussein's forces and other terrorists who are attacking U.S. soldiers and Iraqi leaders with increasing success. In fact, Gen. John Abizaid, our chief military commander in Iraq, thinks we can't do both.

The difficulty of carrying out this double mission with only 140,000 troops became painfully apparent in the last month with the attack on the Jordanian Embassy; the bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad; and the truck-bombing on an Iraqi mosque that killed nearly 100 people, including Iraq's leading moderate Islamic cleric.

Saddam loyalists, burgeoned by an infiltrating army of terrorist groups from neighboring countries, have clearly been on the offensive, while the U.S. forces increasingly appear to be on the defensive.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reportedly met with Abizaid in July and personally delivered his message to President Bush in early August. It was long overdue and, according to administration sources, persuasive.

The Washington Post last week quoted an unnamed senior defense official who said Myers returned from his meeting with Abizaid determined "to get some international troops in here to do things international troops are good at doing -- de-mining, peacekeeping."

American soldiers are trained and disciplined in the business of war -- to fight and kill the enemy. They performed with spectacular swiftness, bravery and resourcefulness in the Iraq war, with relatively few casualties. They should not have been given the responsibility of being law enforcement officers.

Some military leaders argued after the war was won that a new, fresh specialist force should have been brought into Iraq to handle the postwar phase. But we know now that postwar planning was a hasty, seat-of-the-pants operation that was not well thought out.

The administration was opposed to bringing in any force that would put U.S. troops under a U.N. peacekeeping umbrella. Certainly no issue is more politically volatile to the GOP's conservative political base than the spectre of U.S. soldiers fighting under a U.N. command.

But Secretary of State Colin Powell, knowing he had the military brass behind him, found a way around that conundrum during a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan late last month: a U.N. resolution that would place an international force under U.S. command.

Privately, Bush was already open to a U.N. resolution for a multinational force as long as it did not raise political command-and-control questions in Baghdad. The president's postwar policies have been increasingly attacked on the nightly news broadcasts and by his Democratic presidential rivals.

Something had to be changed. So when Powell presented his case to the president last week, Bush was ready. He gave his chief foreign policy adviser the go-ahead to seek a resolution.

What happens next remains to be seen, but it's clear that we need to have some fresh forces in Iraq to free up the U.S. military.

Many countries have volunteered forces to help us in this endeavor, especially in Eastern Europe, though the numbers are relatively small. A U.N.-sanctioned effort would open up a lot more financial assistance and troop support -- probably numbering in the tens of thousands. It can't come too soon.

When Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the first Gulf War, we sent in a massive military force, more than was probably needed to insure the invasion's success. Overwhelming military force in war became known as "the Powell Doctrine."

That doctrine needs to be reactivated in Iraq with a large multinational force aimed at crushing the remnants of Saddam Hussein's terrorist thugs.

With its help, the new rallying cry will be, "Let America's soldiers finish the war."

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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