Ex-Benning commanders weigh in on Iraq: No troops on the ground

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJune 18, 2014 

As Islamic militants battle Iraqi security forces for control, former military leaders at Fort Benning said Wednesday they don't see any U.S. ground troops headed back to the region for combat.

Retired Lt. Gen. Carmen Cavezza and retired Maj. Gen. Jerry White, both former commanders at Fort Benning, admitted that Iraq is now in chaos after the U.S. military trained the Iraqi army, then withdrew at the end of 2011 after more than eight years of war.

Recently, Sunni Muslim rebels have began seizing Iraqi cities on a march toward Baghdad. To help secure U.S. assets, some 275 armed American forces are positioned in and around Iraq. The White House has said the administration is considering possible airstrikes or a small contingent of special operation forces to aid the Iraqis.

As President Barack Obama briefed congressional leaders on Wednesday on options for responding to the crumbling security situation in Iraq, Cavezza said putting U.S. troops on the ground should be the last resort.

"In this case, I doubt seriously they will put troops on the ground," he said.

White also didn't think ground troops should return to Iraq. He said the United States might use some air power or special operations to counter insurgents.

"It's an important part of the world and it's very critical to us," he said. "Someone else has got to step up, too. It's only the United States and someone else needs to step up."

Cavezza said he thinks America has enough air power to deal with the militants.

"We've got plenty of air power, I think, that can deal with it and what leverage we can put on the Iraqi leadership or the government to get off their butts and start doing something," he said. "To put our soldiers in harm's way to bail out failed leadership, I'm not sure that is going to go anywhere. That might solve the problem in the short term, but where are you going to go in the long term?"

Both former commanders can't understand what has happened to top leadership in Iraq.

"The leadership at the top in Iraq just crumbles," Cavezza said. "What I can't understand is we spent all that time and money to develop and train and when they need to commit, bite the bullet and take action, they don't do it. I'm not sure how they expect to keep themselves free, and keep that under control, if they are not going to exercise what strength they have."

Over the last few days, there have been numerous reports of the army breaking and running from the enemy.

"They are just reacting with no endorsement or guidance," Cavezza said. "Where is the leadership that pulls together forces that react? Why aren't they committed? It sounds like they are just sitting on their hands, doing nothing."

While the U.S. spent considerable time and money training the Iraqi army, White said the soldiers are not nearly at the standard where they should be trained. He also noted a big difference in the American soldier and Iraqis.

"Our soldiers are dedicated and committed and they will die on the battlefield," White said. "I don't think the Iraqi army is going to do that. They already laid down their arms and ran."

White recalled how an American soldier will crawl out on the battlefield just to retrieve a fallen flag or slogs through mug to rescue a wounded comrade.

"I never figured that out but one thing I know for sure is he's an American and there is something different about that," he said.

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