By David Keene - 01/26/09 05:49 PM EST
As many readers of this column know, my youngest daughter is an Army “Psy Ops” specialist who spent 2006 in Iraq. What many don’t know is that she re-enlisted to go back and is now in the middle of her second tour over there, where she’s discovered that the challenges today differ greatly from those she faced the last time.
Upon her return to Iraq a few months ago, she was assigned to the very same “Forward Operating Base” from which she had worked two years before. “Things look about the same now,” she told me shortly after her deployment, “except there are fewer dead bodies littering the streets.” She is the only soldier at her current location who was there before and says many newly arrived soldiers find it hard to believe her descriptions of the way things were as opposed to the way they are.
In that sense, the “surge” worked, but new challenges have emerged. The “status of forces” agreement under which our army toils today has forced many to become risk-averse lest they offend the new attitudes of political correctness under which our forces operate. Patrols are being issued “non-lethal” ammunition and warned not to fire on anyone unless they are absolutely sure they have no alternative so that, as she puts it, “18-year-olds who have been trained to fight are not sure that if they use their judgment in what they believe to be a life-threatening situation, they will be backed up by superiors who have little concept of what goes on out on the street because they’re trapped at their desks filling out paperwork.”
She is most concerned, however, about a crisis developing as a result of a provision in the agreement with the Iraqi government that requires the U.S. to provide the Iraqi Ministry of Finance the names and home addresses of anyone working as a contract interpreter for our forces. In the past, because interpreters are a prime target of terrorists, we have refused to identify them by name, and many manage to avoid letting anyone in the neighborhoods in which they live know what they are doing.
They all fear, she says, that if the information we have agreed to release is turned over as agreed, they and their families will be put at terrible risk; many have threatened to resign rather than face that risk. The Iraqis say they need the information for tax purposes, but in the past the taxes on their income have been collected by the contractor for whom they work and turned over to the government without personal information.
The new rules were to go into effect on Jan. 1, but the threat of mass resignations convinced U.S. officials to try to find a way around the requirement, which our negotiators seem to have agreed to without much thought. Thus far, however, these efforts have failed and the corporation employing the interpreters is planning to make the information demanded available on Feb. 1.
When asked how he could do this knowing that by turning the names over to the Iraqis he might well be signing death warrants for men who had served loyally, a representative of the company told a U.S. officer that if he didn’t, he’d be fired and someone else would do it. “I’m just doing my job,” he said, “so don’t blame me if they’re killed.”
Many — if not most — of our interpreters have made it clear that they won’t be working for us as of Feb. 1 so that their names won’t have to be reported. The problem is that without them, there is little we can do in Iraq, because it seems the agreement with the Iraqi government also requires that every patrol and mission we send out must include an interpreter.
Interpreters are already in short supply. They are targeted by the terrorists and seen as traitors by Iraqi militants, and take many of the same chances our soldiers take without knowing if we’ll stick with or abandon them. In fact, the competition for those working for us now is so great that my daughter tells me one of her major challenges is making sure she doesn’t lose those assigned to her unit to others who don’t have one.
If those helping us today head for the tall grass, our forces will be effectively prohibited from doing much of anything other than filling out even more paperwork and waiting for the new administration to bring them home — or, as appears more and more likely, being issued winter gear and shipped off to the mountains of Afghanistan.
Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, can be reached at Keeneacu@aol.com.