Soldiers question when Iraqis will take the lead
NBC News | October 7, 2006
Invisible enemy, untrustworthy allies have troops questioning their purpose
By Richard Engel
The U.S. Cavalry's Crazy Horse, 3rd Platoon ventures out into Southern Baghdad, where the enemy is invisible, Iraqi allies untrustworthy, and where American troops increasingly ask themselves if this is their fight anymore. And who is the enemy?
"It's not clear now who we're always fighting: they're terrorists, they're criminals, they're religious radicals," says Sgt. Mike Schmieder of the Army's 1-14 Cavalry.
Just how murky it's become is obvious after only an hour on patrol. The platoon finds the body of a Sunni man executed and dumped by the roadside just 30 minutes earlier, along with his ID and a photograph of his daughter.
Then Iraqi police arrive — the soldiers think too quickly. No one called them.
The body that these soldiers found had been shot by an Iraqi policeman's pistol; witnesses saw an Iraqi police car leave the scene. Now the soldiers are investigating to see if these police were themselves involved. Surprisingly, an Iraqi police lieutenant tells us he thinks fellow police did it.
"My men are infiltrated by Shiite militias and I can't get rid of them," he says. "If I report them, they'll kill me."
The troops say it's frustrating not to trust their Iraqi counterparts. Do soldiers here ever ask themselves, "Why are we here? Is this our war anymore?"
"Oh yes, all the time. I ask myself that a lot, too," says Spc. Vernon Roberson of 1-14 Cavalry. "We've been here for so long and we've done so much, but it's just so far we can go."
After the mission, the soldiers tell us their morale remains high, but insist Iraqis need to do more.
"It's time for them to take the reins and take responsibility for their country," they say.
Until then, it's U.S. troops mediating, fighting and dying.
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