Thursday, February 28, 2008

When Does The Level of Violence Become Acceptable?

The night convoy supply run in Iraq isn't what it used to be.
Tonight we are doing the run between Camp Anaconda (40 miles north of Baghdad) and Camp Scania (about 125 miles south of Baghdad).
The risks of doing this run are:
IEDs (improvised explosive devices - aka roadside bombs); EFPs (explosively formed penetrators - charges that blast molten metal through armor effortlessly); and small arms fire.
The drivers, huddled behind thick armored glass, peer into the night. All three crewmen in each humvee - the driver commander and gunner - focus intently on the 25 yards of road lit up by the glare of the headights, looking for bombs.
It is a testing time, for both the powers of concentration as well as basic human courage.
These people (men and women, for I am with B-Co, 297th combat support battalion, which includes women, including the woman driver in our truck, Pfc Jimenez, known as "Jimmy") do this almost every night. They will continue to do this in coming months before rotating home to Alaska in the Spring.
Almost every night something happens on this road, called Tampa, which is the main supply route leading north from Kuwait, and along which flow masses of supplies - tires and bullets, ice cream and eggs - that an army uses to fight. A couple of weeks ago one of the trucks of this squad was blown up (no one was killed) doing a similar run. These soldiers drive all over Iraq, escorting supply trucks.
But despite the present danger, this run isn't what it used to be.
Its been two years since I first covered (another unit) driving this stretch of road. Simply put, this run sees a lot less action than before. There used to be more bombs, more small arms fire, more of everything, up until as recently as last June. These days the army's techniques are better, the insurgents are fewer in number. Attacks are down.
In recent months the army is running about one casualty a day. That's just under 40 a month, down from casualty counts of over 100 a month in mid-2007.
At some point Americans and Iraqis are going to have to contemplate the next step in the war (unless things reverse and get dramatically worse) - when does America call victory and go home? How many casualties per month does it take before a war becomes something less than a war? One American a week? Two a month? 70 Iraqis a week, both civilian and security forces?
For now this question doesn't affect daily life here. These soldiers driving the main supply route in the dead of night will keep on, until they head home in a few months.
For the soldiers, if you are part of a squad that takes a hit, even one casualty per year is almost certainly way too many.

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