“We expect to take ground fire on this flight.” So said the young warrant officer with the bandana on his head as our group prepared to board his Chinook helicopter at Baghdad International Airport a little over a month ago. He then proceeded to tell us how to evacuate the aircraft in case we were shot down – casually noting that a mistake could result in a rotor cutting you in half – and where to regroup forward of the helo. Noting that there were lots of guns on board, the soldier said, if you need to use one, “Point and shoot.”
I found myself wondering whether that young man and his crewmates were among the dead following this weekend’s downing of a Chinook chopper on its way to the former Saddam Hussein International. If not, those lost were probably his buddies – or at least young Americans pretty much like him. So were the kids they were flying to Baghdad on the first leg of a short, and surely well-deserved, rest-and-recreation visit back home.
In his unassuming way, the crew chief had reminded me and my colleagues – a group of retired generals and colonels and a few civilian defense analysts who comment on military affairs for various television, radio and print media outlets – that we were in a war zone. U.S. and Coalition personnel in Baghdad and the “triangle” north and west of it are living with the reality that an enemy attack can come at any time, from any direction and with lethal effect.
That point cannot be impressed forcefully enough on those inclined to deprecate what is going on in Iraq today. Thousands and thousands of our countrymen are running these risks in order to secure an important front in the war on terror. In the process, they are giving the Iraqi people a chance for freedom and economic opportunity heretofore unknown by them or their counterparts elsewhere in the Arab world. That chance -- while fragile and probably ephemeral – could, if realized, pay enormous dividends to this country and its allies in terms of a less dangerous region and possibly far-reaching and positive political changes, there and beyond.
This is true, by the way, not only of those in uniform. Although civilian contractors like Haliburton have become favorite whipping boys for anti-war critics, their personnel are also putting their lives on the line to help the people of Iraq turn things around. And, as with the international humanitarian agencies and newly empowered Iraqi police, these civilians have been targeted for murderous attack.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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