May 03, 2004
BOTP 0401: ALL THE BEST, GUYS
One of my duties the last two years has been overseeing the first part of the Toronto-area Basic Officer Training course, which takes new army reserve officers from the street and tries to get the baseline military stuff into them, working here in the local area, before sending them off for more extensive training at Petawawa and Gagetown. It's the equivalent of the first month of army basic, stretched over three to accommodate work and school: I wouldn't say it's a particularly gruelling course, but I think we did succeed in giving these new part-time soldiers (some university students, some older men with careers and families) an idea what they would be in for if they stuck with it, and passed on a few basic military skills at the same time.
This year, we started with 15, and passed 10; the final test is a nice long rucksack march in from the training area, which this year happily coincided (at least, to my mind) with a driving rain-and-lightning storm; the picture is the survivors, with instructors alongside to the right, crossing the finish line. Those who chose to go on immediately to their next courses would have left Toronto by bus or plane this weekend. I'm packing up, too: just turning in the last of my paperwork, and handing this particular job off to someone else so I can go on to other things military; but before I do I did want to wish them, and all the other soldiers I've played some small part in training before them, the best of luck this summer, and in the future.
BRITISH ABUSE ALLEGATIONS
I'm as skeptical as the next guy, but MoD denials about the Daily Mirror photos of British soldier abuse seem hard to take on their face.
The argument that the photos are fakes seem to be based on four things:
a) the combat uniforms did not have all the expected patches;
b) the soldier was wearing a floppy hat, rather than beret or helmet;
c) the rifle was the wrong make;
d) the corrogated truckbed on which the prisoner is lying is of the wrong make.
On a) and b), it's fair to say codes of dress go out the window for soldiers on deployment. They're not dispositive. (One source even said the soldier's boots were laced wrong... sorry, but that simply doesn't mean as much as it used to). On the last point, I'm not an expert in the corrogation patterns of truckbeds, but it's not like we're looking at the whole truck, here, where a difference would be obvious to all. And on the third, I'd understood the only easily visible difference between the SA80 and the SA80A2 the British used in Iraq was the new cocking handle (other than molding colour, different identification stampings, etc. that would not be visible in these photos) but I can't clearly make out the cocking handle in any of the photos seen. More if I find out more. The Mirror's anonymous soldiers are standing by the story, however.
Things that are somewhat more curious: lack of visible body armour on the soldier; lack of a weapon sling; the convenience of an Iraqi (in a Shiite area) wearing an Iraqi flag shirt. The rival London Sun's military experts, who have evidently seen photos I have not, also say a webbing pouch is open, and the pant cuffs are tucked in the boots, not bloused, but I haven't found photos that show that online. So, jury's still out on this one.
For people's interest, the SA80A2 was a series of modifications to the SA80's A1 model that was first seen in British army line units in December 2001. The refit program acquired a sense of urgency after the SA80 A1 proved unsatisfactory in Afghan conditions in late 2001-early 2002, and Iraq was the new model's first large-scale deployment.
UPDATE: From the Mirror's followup, May 4: "In a further move the MoD gagged Lieutenant Colonel John Downham, regimental secretary of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, who has led suggestions that the pictures might be faked... A senior Army source added: 'The colonel has been told to shut up. What he's been saying to a number of people isn't very helpful at all. He's been asked to stop immediately.'"
No, you dope. I don't consider you an ineffective source of military analysis because you're "atmospherically optimistic." I consider you ineffective because you have difficulty with reading comprehension. To wit:
Quoting an Iraqi source that says:
It should be noted that although American forces have retreated from a number of sectors around al-Fallujah, they retain two positions confronting the city:
1. To the northeast where the agricultural zone beyond the railroad tracks begins [the city's edge: ed.] , and
2. To the northwest, beyond al-Jawlan neighborhood.
The events described above seem describe [sic] a move by the USMC into the northeast of the [sic] Fallujah (the upper right corner of the 'Golan' box?).
In other words, you took an account that clearly stated the Marines were now collected outside the city on the northern side, and concluded that really meant they were still inside the city in force. Whether that is in fact the case or not, is beside the point. But the evidence cited doesn't support the analysis... clearly because optimism has intruded.
I have tried, as much as possible, to avoid predicting outcomes unless they were obvious...
The hallmark of useless blogger analysis, that. (Whereas this blog makes falsifiable predictions all the time, many of which have been proven spectacularly wrong. Just most of the readers are polite enough not to point them out, and no one seems to regard me as a last-word expert in anything. Rightly so, I might add.)
COMPLETELY OUT OF TOUCH
Bush said his much-criticized speech from the deck of an aircraft carrier under a banner reading "Mission Accomplished" had properly celebrated the achievement of "an important objective," the ouster of Saddam Hussein. "And as a result, there are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq," he said.
Quite obviously the Abu Ghraib torture chambers/rape rooms were still running only a few months ago. And there was yet another very sad photo in my Globe and Mail this morning of the Fallujah-stadium-turned-mass-grave. I submit it would be impossible for a national leader truly in touch with events as much as even a regular newsreader is, to say that sentence, on that day, in that context.
"endearingly macho" -- Mark Steyn
"wonderfully detailed analysis" -- John Allemang, Globe and Mail
"unusually candid" -- Tom Ricks, Foreignpolicy.com
Bill & Bob
Ghosts of Alex