Maybe Condi can get the Chimpster to glance at this article in Time Magazine prior to tonight’s “major” speech.
Throughout the day, members of Blue Platoon had been hunkered down in their battle-scarred observation post (dubbed “Hotel”) in Ramadi, sniping at reconnaissance units. Then, four hours before Murtha spoke, al-Qaeda let loose an attack on all five American outposts in the city–an assault that a hardened Army sniper dubbed a mini–Tet offensive, referring to the coordinated military actions the Viet Cong launched across South Vietnam one fateful day in 1968.
With the mini-Tet raging, more than 50 rebels lobbed mortars and fired rocket-propelled grenades at the U.S. bases before they closed in under cover of machine-gun fire from virtually 360°. By the end, about the time Murtha wrapped up his press conference in Washington, coalition forces had stormed past dead insurgents to retake Ramadi’s central mosque.
But this is still a city the insurgents can claim they own. Although a U.S. Army brigade hunts them daily, the rebels move freely among a supportive populace. U.S. troops are despised here. The insurgents are embraced. “They are the people we see every day who give us a loaf of bread on a patrol, the people we will be fighting that night,” says Lieut. Colonel Robert Roggeman, whose 2-69 Armored Regiment is battling to control the eastern part of this city of 400,000.
For weeks the 2-69, an entire armored battalion, was cut off from other American forces. The roads in and out of its base were saturated with improvised explosive devices, says Captain Chas Cannon. At one stage, there were 100 explosions a week. “You expected to get hit … possibly several times,” says Cannon. The roads were closed; some food was rationed. But with aggressive combat operations, sniper assaults and the building of precarious outposts, the 2-69 has regained control of the city’s main artery, “Route Michigan,” the troops’ lifeline. Now they are struggling to keep it open. “Anyone who thinks [Iraq] is going to be won a year from now is mistaken,” says brigade commander Colonel John Gronski.
The military has barely made a dent in the insurgency. It’s hard to imagine how American troops can leave in large numbers without further inflaming the threat to the U.S. Al-Qaeda is stronger now than it was before the invasion of Iraq and under al-Zarqawi has even extended its reach, as proved by the Nov. 9 hotel bombings in Jordan by three of his acolytes.
The soldiers of Blue Platoon don’t need to be told that. On Aug. 23, with four insurgent video cameras rolling, al-Zarqawi’s group sent a truck bomb under cover of small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades straight into their observation post. The explosion knocked the entire platoon–more than 30 troops– unconscious. They recovered and fought back, only to be hit by the mini-Tet three months later. Until the U.S. begins a withdrawal, it’s up to soldiers like those of Blue Platoon to man the bunkers. “After the truck bombing,” says Gronski, “every one of them, to a man, said, ‘We are not pulling out of here.'”