Vets watch as insurgents undo sacrifices in Iraq

Retired Army Col. Barry Johnson: "In many ways, it just feels like a waste — a waste of many lives, a waste of many years"
Associated Press
Jun 13, 2014

Marine Sgt. Colin Archipley's unit suffered heavy casualties in the savage house-to-house fighting againstinsurgents holed up in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004.

Nearly a decade later, he watched in frustration from his organic farm north of San Diego as an al-Qaida splinter group seized control of Fallujah, Mosul and other Iraqi cities that Lima Company and other units risked so much to protect.

Iraq's opportunity "was squandered," he said. "I'm not sure what else we could have done."

At VFW halls, kitchen tables and rehabilitation clinics around the country, this week's stunning advance into Mosul left many U.S. veterans reflecting with bitterness and sadness on the sacrifices of a war that lasted for more than eight years and killed nearly 4,500 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

"In many ways, it just feels like a waste — a waste of many lives, a waste of many years," retired Army Col. Barry Johnson said from his home in Potlatch, Idaho.

On the broad stage of Middle East affairs, the unraveling highlights the resilience of extremists and the risks of weakened central authority. It also raises wider questions about the future of Afghanistan after international forces withdraw later this year and about the growing influence of militant Islamic factions among Syrian rebels.

Johnson stood on Iraq's border with Kuwait as the last U.S. military convoy left in late 2011. Even then, he said, it was evident that Iraq's military and security forces were not up to the challenges at hand.

Those tests included trying to confront strongholds of groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has managed to drive back better-armed Iraqi forces. Iraq's Shiite-led government — allied with both Washington and Tehran — is also increasingly estranged from Iraq's Sunni minority, which claims the Shiite leadership runs roughshod over their rights and concerns.

"It was clear that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi military were not going to be able to sustain themselves and keep the situation from deteriorating," Johnson said.

Because the cities loom so large on the roll call of Iraq battlefields, their loss sharpens the sting.

Fallujah, a mostly Sunni city west of Baghdad, was the scene in 2004 of some of heaviest U.S. urban combat since Vietnam. It later became a centerpiece of Washington's efforts to recruit Sunni militias as allies againstinsurgents.

"Losing Fallujah, when I heard that the first time a few months back, I really just honestly wanted to throw chairs across the room, because what I've done there has basically just been undone," said former Marine Sgt. Ben Colin at VFW Post No. 6776 in Albany, New York. "We just basically went there and did nothing, in my opinion."

In Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, U.S. forces battled block by block against insurgents in 2009 before the deadline for American troops to leave major urban centers.

Martin Schaefer, an Army reservist who did two tours in Iraq and now lives in Darien, Illinois, groped for the right word to define his emotions. Not mad or upset, he said.

"Sad," he decided. "Sad to see that the work that had been accomplished by the U.S. and Iraqi forces is being undone by an insurgency."

In the Boston suburb of Arlington, veteran Jeffrey Chunglo winced at reports of insurgents seizing U.S. military equipment, including armored vehicles and weapons that had been left with Iraqi forces to defend Mosul.

"I think we were in a hurry for an exit strategy," said Chunglo, who served as a senior hospital corpsman with the Navy. "I think, obviously, a little more time could have been spent putting together a better plan for ongoing monitoring — especially over the last year — to limit the (insurgents') impact."

But many veterans acknowledge the pressures in Washington from a war-weary nation, particularly with Taliban violence on the rise in Afghanistan and demands for greater involvement in the Arab Spring uprisings.

New York veteran Matthew Pelak questions the staggering mandate given to U.S. commanders after the 2003 invasion to bridge the huge rifts between Iraq's three major groups: Sunnis who once rode high under Saddam, majority Shiites who took the mantle after Saddam's fall and the semi-autonomous Kurds in the north.

"We removed the government, the standing army, any way for that country to organize itself," said Pelak, a former Army sergeant who served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and later returned as a security contractor with the company then called Blackwater. "So it's a bit tough to just say, 'Hey, let's all play nice in the sand box.'"

In Iraq, Marine Staff Sgt. Marcus Berleson of Weatherford, Texas, served as a squad leader. In Afghanistan, he lost both arms and vision in his left eye trying to disarm an improvised bomb in December 2011.

"When we pulled out of (Iraq), we left a big power void," said Berleson, who now does outreach with wounded veterans. "We didn't have the country stable on its feet yet. It didn't have a true infrastructure. It didn't have true security forces or a military that was actually willing to stand up and secure the country for itself."

But few veterans appeared to support a return of U.S. ground forces to Iraq — a prospect that Pelak called "an incredibly bad idea."

"I think there is no place for the U.S. military right now in there," he said. "It would further just confuse the situation in an already chaotic environment."

For a former top U.S. commander in northern Iraq, the images of Mosul falling to insurgents leave only a sense of helplessness and sorrow.

"I keep going back to the number of soldiers who have given the best part of their lives to help make this country (Iraq) better," said retired Gen. Mark Hertling, who now lives in Orlando, Florida. "It's saddening and it's disheartening, and you know you can't do anything about it to fix it."

Comments

The Big Dog's back

Yep, we (bush) took the guy out who had control of that country. Smart move. Not!

Huron_1969

You favored Saddam Hussein ?

The Big Dog's back

Over what's happening now, yes.

Peninsula Pundit

So where's the article the headline goes to?

Donegan

Your comment shows exactly how much you read.

bayshore

Article doesn't match headline.

Blowfish

What did we expect? Unless you plan to occupy the country forever. We are still in Japan and Germany 70 years later.

Commenting on the headline only. No opinion on the actual article.

Gardenman

You are correct being in those countries but I think today its more of the US having a presence in that part of the world and thus a base for ships, personnel, etc. US is not there to keep German people or in Japan to keep the people in check.

Real world is we can't remain in Iraq with a huge military presence FOREVER. The Iraqi government and people have to assume the responsibility for their own security. BUT they do not want to do that they want Americans there and Americans dying for keeping their country safe. The Iraqi people never have stepped up and done what they should be doing they say let the Americans do. R

Really in all honesty and no joke Iraq is the true welfare state and are more than happy to let the US do the work and pay the bills while they sit on their can.

downthemiddle

Obama is in Palm Springs fund raising and golfing....

jazzbo

...and Bush and Cheney are laying low.

Donegan

So Obama is just as worthless as those two, Good to know. Now please give your reasons for defending one and attacking the other please.
You do realize that Bush and Cheney are out of office and hold no power?

jazzbo

No, he is not as worthless as those two.

" Now please give your reasons for defending one and attacking the other please."
-If you need me to explain to you the difference...you have been living in a cave.
You won't believe me anyway.

"You do realize that Bush and Cheney are out of office and hold no power?"
--Really ? Since when ?

Donegan

Cannot answer a simple question about how they are different other than race huh? You're just another example of the uneducated voters Democrats thrive on.
Yes he is just as worthless if not more so. He has doubled the debt, Re-signed every patriot act type thing that has came across his desk and for some reason gave more money to those 1%ers than he has helped you moronic masses that thought he was on your side. Now run along to camp in a park some more while you line up your next rich person that wants to get richer because of your stupidity. Clinton's up to bat i believe, She's poor, Worth on 50 million she definitely needs more.

jazzbo

Do you think Romney would not look out for the rich?
You have rocks in your "educated" head if you think he wouldn't.
That's what Republicans do - they take from the have-nots and give it to the ones that have more than could ever need or use.
If you're not rich and vote Republican...you're stupid.

All the Republicans of the near past and present are worthless.

I strongly doubt that there will ever be a Republican president again.

Donegan

You seem to think there are only two parties, Educate yourself. That's the problem with you moronic masses, You keep electing the same two parties that created these messes hoping sooner or later they will fix them. That makes absolutely no sense. But then again no one expects you people to have any. Do you think your rich person any better than the repubs? Nah... now run along and loiter in a park picketing rich people while campaigning to make your rich person richer.
While your making predictions about how you wish to have a king or at least a proletariat in charge please take note that this country was founded to stop that sort of government because it abuses its citizens, You know obstruct you morons from returning to the past.

jazzbo

I'm not against rich people. I've got nothing against rich people.
Except there are two types of rich people :

One cares about the good of the populace.
The other cares only about their little selves.

So , what person or party do you have in mind , my little ranting and raving , Fox News watching , Rush Limbaugh listening , puppet head ??

Donegan

Lets put it this way my little useless idiot, Not one of the two you morons keep electing expecting them to fix the same mistakes they have created.
Face it your a hypocrite and interchangeable with Dog and coaster.
You are delusional if you think for one second any of those in Washington care one bit about you, They would drone you into the ground for a sixpence.

jazzbo

Donegan , take your medication.

Donegan

That's why you either are Dog or a clone of him. Not one ounce of common sense between the two of you. Face it You liberal/Democrats are just as bad if not worse than those you demonize. You're hypocrites so i can see why you would miss that though.

jazzbo

Take meds.

Donegan

Just like Dog, Nothing to say just blame and attacks.

jazzbo

America is scary with people like YOU around.

dontknowmuch

All me need to remember is the al Qaeda is on the run... according to the POTUS

eriemom

Wow! Please read before commenting.

Stop It

This frippin' article has nothing to do whatsoever with the headline and subhead.

gene44870

I agree . This talking about two entirelly different stories .come on sandusky register get with it . Both stories are intresting but need more proof reading before printing

KnuckleDragger

Should anyone expect anything different. Everyone in the world is thumbing their nose at the gutless empty suit we have in the White House. You voted for our pacifist metrosexual President, now you can deal with the fact that China is provoking our military, Russia is flying bombers 50 miles from our coast, and Iraq and Afghanistan are falling apart. But hey, we'll have our military home. A lot of solace that will provide when we are attacked on our own soil by the same countries the President chooses to ignore. This what happens when you put a "rock star" in office rather than a true leader.

Darwin's choice

That would be "rock head". Community organizer....ha ha ha!

FearistheMindKiller

Knuckle,

What right was bestowed upon the U.S. to invade Iraq?
What good came upon the destruction and sorrow our nation imposed on those people? So we deposed their dictator that our gubberment helped install and supported for years...whoopee!

What did we get? A lot of soldiers returning home legless and lifeless. Was that a good investment of our national treasure? What was the return on investment?

Fear mongering about China and Russian, puhleeze! Turn up the volume on Fox, CNN and Rush Limbaugh and wallow in the propaganda. You fall prey to the saber rattling spewed from the mainstream media.

China has already invaded America, just visit Walmart dude. We all support the Red Menace with our purchases.

Who profits from these wars??? Did you? Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, Haliburton, Lockheed and Bechtel made billions and billions.... At our expense.

Are we really safer? Does plundering inflicting death and pain on millions of others make the work a better place for humanity?

And yes, our president pretty much sucks, they all do as they are tools and puppets.

pntbutterandjelly

According to my calculations...if we spent in excess of 2 TRILLION dollars in Iraq...that means we spent $7,000.00 for every man, woman and child that lives in the U.S. and this is what we get to show for it? That's not to mention 4 thousand dead Americans and 30,000 wounded. "Mission accomplished"
It would be maddening to know who profited and how much from this "foreign policy". With these figures...I also wonder what the real price for a gallon of our gasoline is.

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