Casey looked impossibly young as he lay there, and you could see pain in his bright blue eyes. He had been hit by 200 pieces of shrapnel. His jaw and collar bone were broken. His legs had been amputated -- the right well above the knee and the left below it. He was suffering what's called phantom pain, searing discomfort in legs and feet that weren't there anymore. Those injuries would not heal quickly.
Beset by infections, Casey went through four additional amputations on his right stump, each time losing more of the leg. He was medically discharged from the Marine Corps and then struggled with the bureaucracy of the Veteran's Administration, a system he calls "broken."
It was about 120 degrees the day I met Alfred. One of those furnaces-like Baghdad days that come blazing in every June. Alfred had found about the only relief on our rock-covered dirty street. He looked pretty comfortable in a worn, formerly white plastic chair propped in a little shade supplied by a 12-foot-high concrete blast wall.
Damn, I whispered, I'm melting. Why isn't that chair?
"Salaam alaikum," I sweated out in fractured Arabic.
From CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent Chip Reid:
Exactly five years ago I was with the Third Batallion, Fifth Marines, waiting for the order to cross what they called the Line Of Departure-a pass they'd cut through the giant sandberm that ran along the Iraq/Kuwait border. I was squeezed into the back of an Amphibious Assault Vehicle-an engineering marvel that was built for beach assaults but had no trouble making it all the way to Baghdad, and beyond. We were part of a convoy that stretched as far as I could see forward and back. Amazingly, many of the 19 or so Marines who were squeezed into a space built for about 10, slept. They were smart enough to know they'd need their rest. I was not. I stood and watched through an open hatch as we blasted through the LOD and roared across the Iraqi desert – with no idea of what to expect.
When American troops crossed the sandy berms marking the border of Kuwait and Iraq, I was afraid, anxious and frightened.
Frightened, even though I was a good 50 miles away in a swank Kuwait City hotel suite (that doubled as a CBS News office) surrounded by solid walls, with good communications and room service. A dozen or so CBS colleagues were out there in the dark, inhospitable desert, some hearing angry gunfire for the first time and virtually cut off from the world. They were the "embeds;" the pentagon's journalist frontline. I had seen combat, reported on wars, and knew they were in the middle of a life-changing and life-threatening event.
I thought about Iraqi friends who, even farther north, were also terrified, crouched and bundled under beds, cars, and shelters as "shock and awe" rained down … and changed their lives.
The war began in dramatic fashion: Stealth fighters and cruise missiles launching a bolt out of the blue attack against a compound where Saddam Hussein was believed to be spending the night. Saddam survived the strike and perhaps that should have been an omen of the difficulties to come – that it would take more than high tech weapons to get rid of Saddam. It took foot soldiers to flush him out of a hole in the ground. And today it is foot soldiers in the form of the troop surge who have helped produce a reduction in violence.
Donald Rumsfeld used to talk a lot about "transformation," and a great transformation has finally taken place, although not on his watch … and not the one he envisioned. What he had in mind was transforming the Cold War military into a smaller, more agile fighting force. After he left, a larger fighting force was sent into Iraq to conduct a new counterinsurgency strategy.
The conventional wisdom holds that the U.S. wouldn't be in so much trouble in Iraq if Rumsfeld had just sent more troops in at the start. I'm not sure I buy that. For one thing, more troops would have taken longer to get there, so the whole dynamic of the initial invasion would have been different. For another, there was no plan for what to do with more troops. Finally, if more troops had used the same heavy-handed tactics that prevailed in the first years of the occupation, they might have succeeded only in outraging Iraqis even further.
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