Congress heard Wednesday from members of the U.S.
military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Testimony by the
servicemen, who said morale among U.S. forces remains high,
provided an opportunity for lawmakers from both parties to
praise U.S. soldiers, but was also an occasion for some to
express concern about military losses in Iraq, which recently
passed the 1,000 mark.
When U.S. servicemen and women who have fought in Iraq and
Afghanistan appear before congressional committees, they
usually portray American fighting forces, their objectives and
conduct, in positive terms.
In Wednesday's hearing before the House Armed Services
Committee, soldiers from the Army and Marines, painted a
picture of proud military units required to fight one minute,
and rebuild the next.
Colonel Michael Linnington is a former brigade commander
with the 101st Airbone Division.
"My brigade performed a wide range of operations, from war
fighting to stability and support operations, often conducting
both within blocks or hours of each other," he said. "It was
not uncommon for my soldiers to be rebuilding schools and
medical clinics during the day, and conducting foot patrols at
night, or fighting insurgents in one part of town, while
assisting elections in another. In all of these operations,
our soldiers performed magnificently, with courage,
dedication, selflessness, compassion and respect for the Iraqi
people that made me very proud to be their commander."
Lieutenant Colonel Bryan McCoy was a former Marine
commander in Iraq, among the first to enter Baghdad. He
referred to the challenge U.S. troops faced in switching from
combat operations to more "ambiguous" security and stability
"These young men, in many cases, were last year's high
school seniors," he added. "They instinctively knew what to
do, and demonstrated great compassion on a people that had
known only terror and fear. The effect of their efforts was
electric. To see the faces of the tormented [Iraqi] people,
many who had never known anything but being ruled by Saddam
and his brutal regime, was overwhelming. As we gained their
trust, nearly every adult or child had a story to tell about
they had personally suffered under Saddam."
As this and other testimony made clear, Wednesday's
committee hearing was also another opportunity for the
military and lawmakers to highlight positive accomplishments
in Iraq, as well as attempt some "image repair" several months
after controversy first developed over the abuse of Iraqi
prisoners by some members of the military.
Republican Congressman Joel Hefley, who chaired the
hearing, sought to keep the focus on positive accomplishments
of U.S. troops in Iraq:
"Thirty years ago, a generation of Americans fought in
another foreign war. Because the war was controversial, some
people who opposed it sought to tar all Vietnam veterans with
the crimes of a small handful," said Mr. Hefley. "We can't
allow that to happen again."
That comment appeared to be aimed directly at Democratic
presidential candidate Senator John Kerry, whose statements in
congressional testimony decades ago about U.S. military
atrocities during the Vietnam war have been used by
congressional Republicans and other groups opposing Mr. Kerry
to question his qualifications to be president.
Against the background of the reports of 1000 U.S. military
deaths in Iraq, the hearing also provided an opportunity for
one House Democrat, Congressman Ike Skelton, to renew concerns
about Bush administration handling of Iraq.
But in doing so, Mr. Skelton also repeated his conviction
that the United States needs to stay the course in Iraq.
"This number represents 1000 families who have paid the
highest price for the war in Iraq," he said. "When the price
is this high, what exactly do we have to show for the
sacrifice of our sons and daughters? But we made a commitment
and I have maintained from the beginning that we must see that
Nevertheless, Mr. Skelton referred to recent U.S. military
deaths in Fallujah, saying it appears the United States may
not be learning such lessons.
Republican House lawmakers used speeches Wednesday to
highlight what they call U.S. military successes in Iraq and
Afghanistan, echoing statements by the Bush campaign that
these have also helped prevent further terrorist attacks in
the United States.