War on Iraq

Vulnerable Helicopters Should Accelerate Iraq Exit

With the fifth helicopter shot down by Iraqi insurgents in three weeks, Congress must explain to the American people why they should make the sacrifice for more of our soldiers to be killed in those "flying coffins."
I'm one of those odd people who believes that sometimes that deja vu feeling is real -- that we really have "been here, done this," before. Well I got that deja vu feeling this morning when I read this:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An umbrella insurgent group claimed responsibility for downing a U.S. helicopter and "burning it down completely" near Baghdad on Wednesday, according to a claim listed on various Islamist Web sites. ... CNN was unable to confirm the authenticity of the statement from the group, which includes al Qaeda in Iraq. ... It was the fifth U.S. helicopter to go down in Iraq in almost three weeks.
Hmmm, I thought to myself, after all the bad news out of Iraq in recent months, this felt different ... yet the same. It felt important too, more important than the usual news about roadside bombs and Iraqis using electric drills to make holes in their neighbors before beheading them. This bit of news caught my attention in a different, yet familiar way. But why? Why did it feel different, yet somehow the same? And why did I feel this bit of news marked a new, and final, turning point? So I did a bit of research, and lo and behold look what I found. Deja vu-city! We really have been here and done this before. Well not "us" literally, but someone that acted like we are acting now. Here, read this and I'll rejoin you at the other end:
"... Following the deployment, the Soviet troops were unable to establish authority outside Kabul. As much as 80% of the countryside still escaped effective government control. The initial mission, to guard cities and installations, was expanded to combat the anti-communist Mujahideen forces, primarily using Soviet reservists. The Soviet Army was unfamiliar with such fighting, had no counter-insurgency training, and their weaponry and military equipment, particularly armored cars and tanks, were sometimes ineffective or vulnerable in the mountainous environment.
The Soviets used helicopters as their primary air attack force, supported with fighter-bombers and bombers, ground troops and special forces. Of particular significance was the donation of American-made FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, which increased aircraft losses of the Soviet Air Force. The inability of the Soviet Union to break the military stalemate, gain a significant number of Afghan supporters and affiliates, or to rebuild the Afghan Army, required the increasing direct use of its own forces to fight the rebels. Soviet soldiers often found themselves fighting against civilians due to the elusive tactics of the rebels. They did repeat many of the American Vietnam mistakes, winning almost all of the conventional battles, but failing to control the countryside. (More)
Yep. And instructive as hell, since we know how that superpowers attempt to straighten out a Muslim nation by force ended. But it's not just that, it's not that it ended in failure, but precisely what it was that ended it. What ended it were Stinger shoulder mounted anti-aircraft missiles, ("Manpads") secretly supplied to the Mujahideen by the US. "Its long range and sophisticated guidance made the Stinger highly effective against Soviet airplanes and helicopters, and Stingers were credited with turning the tide of the war in the Mujahideen's favor, according to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. (More) In all the Soviets lost over 130 helicopters and other aircraft to these deadly accurate little missiles. (See list here)

While George W. Bush may not be a fan of history, some folks are. Apparently among those history buffs are the Iranians. They took note of what it was that caused the once powerful Soviets to cut and run out of Afghanistan. Which brings me back to why I think that bit of news this morning marks the beginning of the end for the US occupation of Iraq -- and why we've suddenly lost five helicopters in less than three weeks. Because, you see, the Iranians have their own versions of the Stinger, and there is the possibility that a country may provide missiles to anti-US insurgents in Iraq. (See also Anza, a series of Chinese developed, IR-guided shoulder-fired surface to air missiles, under licensed production in Pakistan.) That's why this is feels different, yet the same -- different superpower, same solution.

It's not -- no pun intended -- rocket science. All you have to do is ask yourself this: What was the only tactical advantage the Soviets had over the Mujahideen? Answer: Air power. Except for the lack of air power, the Mujahideen held every other tactical advantage. First, they lived there, while the Russians were just heavily armed visitors. Also, they knew the terrain like the backs of their little brown hands, while Soviet troops were, quite literally, lost much of the time.

Back then the US clearly understood that air-power was the Soviet Achilles heel in Afghanistan. Which is precisely why we slipped the Mujahideen a couple a hundred Stinger missiles. Once the Soviets lost their air power advantage, they lost the war. Today US forces in Iraq are in the same sinking boat the Soviets found themselves in 25 years ago. We can't move our forces safely or quickly on the ground, so we move them by helicopter. And, when Iraqi troops get their asses in a sling -- (which appears to be whenever anyone shoots back at them.) -- they call in US air support to do the heavy killing for them. No US air support would mean Iraqi troops refusing to venture far from base. Then there's the Baghdad airport -- the main lifeline into and out of that hell hole of country. Lumbering transports and troop-ladened passenger planes already have to perform corkscrew-dive bomber style landings to avoid getting hit by conventional ordinance. Such aerial dodge-ball antics don't confuse the new Iranian-supplied Manpad missiles.

So now what? Well, for starters don't expect many of those photo-op visits to Baghdad by US officials after the first commercial or military transport gets hit. After that the once routine task of flying in fresh US troops and flying out the exhausted and wounded troops will become a life and death crap shoot. All of which raises the obvious question; does the Bush administration realize they are repeating the Soviet's mistakes? Apparently not. A country provides deadly ground-to-air missiles to the insurgents and the Bush administration does what? It moves two aircraft carriers brimming with planes and helicopters into the Gulf -- a move that can only be read as another swaggering "bring-it on" from you-know-who. I've given up hoping anyone in the Bush administration is going to "get it," when it comes to the futility of this kind of anachronistic superpower behavior in the Middle East.

That leaves Congress. Though hope is slim, and seems to be getting slimmer by the day, Congress is our last hope that adults will step in and put an end to this abortion of war. And end it Congress could, if only they would. Congress is the paymaster for this war. So, the next time you talk to your elected members of Congress, ask them; are they going to just keep writing checks for replacement sitting duck helicopters for Iraq? The Soviets did, until they ran out of money -- and those willing to fly them. Is Congress going to allow Bush to pack 25,000 additional US troops into planes and fly them into Iraq now? What's it going to take, a 737 or C130 being blown out of the sky over Baghdad rainging the bodies of a couple of hundred troops onto the airport tarmack? Is that what it'll take -- and aerial Beirut barracks -- before you stop paying for this madness? If so, then Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- are no better, smarter or more worthy of our votes than those in the administration who started all this. So Congress, cut the funding and cut the losses. Because, not only has the war itself changed, but the reason we are being told for being there. Bush may have started this war to protect our access to oil, but now he's just trying to protect his own legacy. And he's paying for that protection with the lives of other Americans children, wives, husbands, mothers and fathers.

Make no mistake about it -- Congress is the enabler in this dysfunctional relationship. The enabling agent is funding. Like the alcoholic he is -- one war-funding resolution is too much for George W. Bush and a thousand fundings not enough. The time for a Congressional intervention is long overdue. Give the administration six more months of funding and tell them to use it to begin an orderly withdrawal for Iraq. Or else be ready to explain to the American people why you need to appropriate more of our tax money for helicopters, a lot more helicopters, and the people willing to pilot those flying coffins. I don't care how it's described, or how other's may describe it. Call it whatever you like; a "redeployment," a "strategic withdrawal," or "cutting and running." (Wanna bet Gen. Custer wishes he had?) Anyway, Congress -- hello -- please "get it" -- it's over. So, senators, representatives, get our troops -- and pilots -- the hell out of there -- and sooner rather than later. Otherwise just shut the hell up and ask Bush if there's room in his bunker for his enablers.

Correction: This article originally asserted that Iran has provided Stinger missiles to Iraqi insurgents, and has been changed.
Stephen Pizzo is the author of numerous books, including Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, which was nominated for a Pulitzer.