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Issue Date: September 20, 2004

Officers testify in line of fire on the Hill

By Rick Maze
Times staff writer

In a congressional hearing with strong election-year overtones, five battle-tested commanders told the House Armed Services Committee that U.S. troops, particularly young leaders, are performing admirable work in Iraq under tough conditions, but with support from the vast majority of the Iraqi people.

Testimony from the Army and Marine Corps officers Sept. 8 was intended by Republican lawmakers to bolster support for President Bush’s Iraq policy, a source of increasingly bitter debate. Democrats used the hearing to try to show that the policy was putting troops in increasing jeopardy.

The commanders, meanwhile, tried to stay out of the line of fire.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., tried to get them to complain that the American news media — both print and broadcast — focus only on negative aspects of the mission and that Iraqi opposition to the presence of U.S. troops is overblown.

Army Col. Michael Linnington, a member of the Joint Staff and a former brigade commander with the 101st Airborne Division during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, said the focus on fatalities and the insurgents causing them is understandable.

“Loss of any soldier is significant. It will dominate the news and it should,” Linnington said.

“It is the shipwrecks that make the news,” added Marine Lt. Col. Bryan McCoy, who commanded the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in Iraq, where he served two tours.

“I have not seen any good-news stories about what our soldiers, Marines and sailors are doing,” said Marine Capt. Morgan Savage, a former company commander with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.

Savage, an academics officer at the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School, also did two deployments in Iraq. He said good things are happening on a daily basis involving U.S. troops and Iraqis that are not widely known.

Army Capt. Patrick Costello, who headed a 101st Airborne Division air defense unit before being reassigned to handle emergency services, said he stopped watching the news since returning to the United States because he finds it distorted.

Costello said that by his estimate, about 90 percent of the Iraqi people are happy the United States remains in Iraq, but the news concentrates on insurgents and seems to show that 90 percent oppose continued U.S. presence.

What is needed, said Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Springman, is more emphasis on the differences in many Iraqi towns compared with before the U.S. invasion.

Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., said the idea of calling in commanders to testify was to focus on “the selfless work of the American military in Iraq.”

Democrats took care to also praise troops for their service but didn’t refrain from raising questions about Bush’s policies.

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