I've just finished reading an investigation relating to a grudge Col.
Michael Steele developed against one of his battalion commanders in Iraq.
Any sympathy I had for Steele, a veteran of the "Black Hawk Down" battle in
Somalia in October 1993, pretty much
evaporated as I read the report by Brig. Gen. Rickey L. Rife, the 101st
Airborne's assistant division commander for support, on how Steele handled his
brigade (also called a BCT, for "brigade combat team").
"Four of seven battalion commanders
thought the 3rd BCT command climate could best be described as
negative, intimidating, oppressive, frustration and zero tolerance. This was
echoed by five of the seven battalion command sergeants major [the most senior
enlisted soldiers in the brigade], two of whom had been threatened with
Two of the battalion commanders said they wanted to get out
of the brigade because of "the demoralizing climate created by the 3rd
BCT commander"-that is, Col. Steele. The
majority view of battalion leadership was that the brigade had a "uniformly
poor" climate, Rife found.
Rife's report exonerated Steele of the charge that he had
created a command climate that encouraged "illegal, wanton, or superfluous
killing." But his findings beg the question of why Steele was left in command
for so long when he clearly was at odds with where the Army was trying to go in
Iraq, and was leading a unit that had many officers and NCOs chafing under his
macho bullshit leadership.
"Soldiers repeatedly stated the brigade commander's
expectation was for insurgents to be killed, rather than captured or
detained -- if the ROE [rules of engagement] permitted," Rife notes. Actually, in
a counterinsurgency campaign, many in the Army had learned by this time, the
best thing to do with most insurgents, but not with the hard-core al Qaeda
guys, was to turn them -- that is, bring them over to the American side. The
second best was to capture them and interrogate them. The third and worst
option was to kill them, which meant their intelligence value was lost, and
their relatives were antagonized and looking for revenge. Indeed, just a year
later, U.S. policy in Iraq was to put the Sunni insurgents on the American
payroll -- almost 100,000 of them, by some accounts.
I find Steele's case more egregious than that of a similar
officer, Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman, because it occurred after two years of
additional hard-won experience in Iraq. Back in 2004, at the time that
Sassaman's battalion engaged in crimes such as making hand-cuffed Iraqi
prisoners jump into the Tigris River, it was arguable to some that fear and
intimidation of Iraqis was still the way to go. By the time Steele got to Iraq,
that debate was pretty much over inside the Army.
(Hat tip to Wikileaks.org and its overtaxed servers)
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