Iraq Broadcast News By Pentagon Correspondents

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March 24, 2008
NBC Nightly News, 7:00 PM
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good evening. We don’t know who it was exactly, but when a bomb went off in Iraq yesterday one of the four American soldiers who died became number 4,000. That soldier won’t be mourned any differently. His death isn’t more meaningful than any of the other American lives lost in Iraq. They all volunteered for duty and proudly wore the uniform of their country. They all leave loved ones behind without them. The truth is, these benchmarks, like this death toll, are tracked by the media and politicians as one way of telling the human story of this war, which has gone on now longer than World War Two. It’s where we begin here tonight with our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski.
Jim, good evening.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Good evening, Brian. This latest number on U.S. casualties in Iraq comes amid a recent and in some cases dramatic increase in the violence against Americans and Iraqis alike.
The sobering statistic was reached yesterday when, like most U.S. fatalities, four American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. In Washington today, President Bush expressed his sympathy for all 4,000 U.S. war dead and a determination to achieve victory in Iraq.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I have vowed in the past and I will vow so long as I’m president to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain.
MIKLASZEWSKI: But despite dramatic reductions in violence under the current surge operations, there are early warning signs some progress may be unraveling. As the U.S. begins the withdrawal of American forces from Baghdad, the U.S. death toll has steadily risen.
In January, ten out of 40 American fatalities were killed in Baghdad Province. In February, it climbed to 13 out of 29, and so far this month, 16 out of 27 U.S. military who have died in Iraq were killed in Baghdad.
If that trend continues, it could slow down future troop withdrawals from Iraq.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Okay, fellows, let’s go.
MIKLASZEWSKI: General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, already plans to bring five American combat brigades home by the end of July.
MICHAEL O’HANLON [Brookings Institution]: This is going to be a complicated process. We’re already cutting 25 percent of our combat power in Iraq this year according to the schedule. I doubt very much we will reduce much more than that.
MIKLASZEWSKI: It’s also estimated that nearly 100,000 Iraqis, military and civilians, have been killed in the war, just as there’s been a dramatic spike in sectarian violence. U.S. military officials say 69 Iraqis were killed in sectarian violence last week – up from 22 killed the week before.
BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.) [U.S. Army]: The sectarian hatreds aren’t going to diminish for another hundred years, and so what we’ve got temporarily is both the Shi’a and the Sunni are waiting for the next phase of the civil war.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Now, despite these recent spikes, the level of violence in Iraq is down dramatically since that surge operation began a year ago. But military officials are predicting there’ll probably be a series of even more spectacular attacks before General Petraeus makes his recommendations on Iraq to Congress in two weeks. And we’re told, Brian, that General Petraeus will not be ready to recommend any further troop cuts beyond July.
WILLIAMS: Jim Miklaszewski outside the Pentagon for us tonight. Jim, thanks.
World News With Charles Gibson (ABC), 6:30 PM
CHARLES GIBSON: Good evening. It’s not often we begin this broadcast with a number, for statistics are impersonal, and this number is very personal. Four thousand lives. Four thousand lives now lost in just over five years of war in Iraq. Last night about 10:00 p.m. Baghdad time four U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside IED in southern Baghdad, and that brought U.S. war casualties to 4,000. We start with our national security correspondent, Jonathan Karl.
JONATHAN KARL: The four soldiers were killed here along the Baghdad airport road. The weapon, a roadside bomb. More than half of those 4,000 have been killed this way. Today their fellow soldiers were well aware of the milestone.
U.S. ARMY MALE: I don’t feel that number 4,000 is any more important than number one. They’re all important. We feel them all.
U.S. ARMY MALE: It hurts but you can’t concentrate on it. You’ve got to move on. There’s a job to be done, and worrying about soldiers who died, we do that and we say our peace and then we move on.
KARL: The president called this a day of reflection.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I have vowed in the past and I will vow so long as I’m president to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain, that in fact there is a outcome that will merit the sacrifice.
KARL: And in an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz Vice President Cheney expressed regret.
VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: We are fortunate to have a group of men and women, an all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm’s way for the rest of us.
KARL: The milestone comes as actually fewer Americans are dying and getting wounded, but still, so far this year, an average of one U.S. service member has been killed and nearly seven wounded every day. The milestone also comes as President Bush begins a week of meetings with his national security team to decide whether to withdraw more troops. America’s top man in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has made it clear he would like to pause troop withdrawals after the last of the surge combat brigades comes home in July. Sources involved with the process say troop reductions likely would not start again until October, and it is almost certain that there will be at least 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq when President Bush leaves office next January.
As for the 4,000 milestone, the senior military officials I have spoken to view it the same way most of the rank and file do. As one told me, the 4,000th is really no difference than the 3,999th. They all hurt. Charlie.
GIBSON: Our national security correspondent, Jonathan Karl, down in Washington tonight. Thanks.
CBS Evening News, 6:30 PM
HARRY SMITH: A White House spokesperson said the president spends time every day thinking about those who have lost their lives in battle. So, of course, do the families of the fallen. Here’s David Martin with that story.
DAVID MARTIN: It has now happened 4,000 times, but there is no getting used to it. All the potential of a young life gone in an instant, leaving a grief that hurts just to watch. Robert Pirelli was 29, but many of the fallen, like 19-year-old Travis Layfield were just out of high school.
FEMALE: This is the year we’re supposed to start our lives. We all graduated last year.
MARTIN: The faces of the fallen, so shocking when we saw them spread across two whole pages four years ago, would now fill most of the first section of a big city newspaper. Behind every picture lies an abyss of sorrow.
MARTIN: Kendall Damon Watersbey was one of the first to die.
WATERSBEY: President Bush, you took my only son away from me.
MARTIN: Louise Teal, who lost her only son, John, was more accepting of his fate.
LOUISE TEAL: He signed up to fight. When you fight, you get shot at.
MARTIN: Anger or resignation. The number cannot begin to tell the stories of the fallen. Jennifer Harting was about to give birth to their third child when her husband Jay was killed.
JENNIFER HARTING [Wife of Fallen Soldier]: I remember looking at my child and thinking about my husband at the same time, and just overwhelming grief and overwhelming happiness at the same time.
MARTIN: Laurel Frank, who lived just down the street at Fort Irwin, California, seemed condemned to a lifetime of grief when she lost her husband Steven.
Does it get any easier?
LAUREL FRANK [Wife of Fallen Soldier]: Of course not.
MARTIN: Of course not?
FRANK: I could be 95. It still wouldn’t be easier.
ELLEN ANDERSON [Wife of Fallen Soldier]: It’s like they just tear your heart out.
MARTIN: When Ellen Anderson’s husband Victor was killed the entire town of Ellaville, Georgia turned out for his funeral.
ANDERSON: It was overwhelming to know that so many people cared for us.
MARTIN: The war may have divided us, but from small town churches to candlelight vigils, from an Indian tribe in Massachusetts to Muskegon, Wisconsin, we can still come together for the fallen.
David Martin, CBS News, the Pentagon.
CNN Newsroom, 10:00 AM
TONY HARRIS: The Iraq War, the U.S. death toll reaches a grim milestone, 4,000 America forces have now died in the war. That threshold was reached when four U.S. soldiers died in a roadside bombing yesterday in Baghdad. You'll remember the war marked its fifth anniversary a few days ago.
Talking about troop withdrawals, important testimony on Iraq coming up. But one leading commander will be left off the witness list.
Here's CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Officially the Pentagon says it doesn't want the head of central command Admiral William Fallon testifying before Congress about troop reductions in Iraq, because Fallon will be retiring at the end of March, and will have been out of office for several days when Iraq hearings happen in early April.
GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: Well, that's certainly one of the reasons. The other reason is that this system worked quite well last time.
STARR: The Pentagon system, have General David Petraeus, the most visible military symbol of success in Iraq be the only officer testifying as he did in September. Petraeus openly admits past tensions with Fallon who is his boss.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR. U.S. FORCES IN IRAQ: There was friction in the beginning. He has different job than I have.
STARR: Petraeus will tell Congress he wants a pause in further troop withdrawals starting in July when the last of the surge troops come home. Fallon, whose command includes Middle East and central Asia is known to favor a faster withdrawal, so there are rested and ready troops for the future. Last month in Iraq, Fallon told CNN there needs to be more focus on Iraqi forces.
ADM. WILLIAM FALLON, U.S. CENTRAL COMMANDER: Figure out how we're going to continue the transition to the Iraqis, make sure they're capable, confident and ready to take this over.
STARR: Fallon resigned under a political cloud of innuendo that he was less willing to go to war against Iran than administration hard liners, a point Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell tried to avoid.
MORRELL: My answer is not going to change no matter how many times we ask this question. The system worked well last time. We're going to make sure it works just as well this time.
STARR: Why not let Admiral Fallon testify alongside General Petraeus? Well, it's a political headache and a level of candor the Pentagon may want to avoid. Still, Admiral Fallon may appear on Capitol Hill in the weeks ahead. Many in Congress are indicating they still want to hear from him. Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon. (END VIDEOTAPE)
Morning Edition (NPR), 11:00 AM
RENEE MONTAGNE: A sad milestone for the U.S. in Iraq last night. It came in a brief statement from the U.S. military command in Baghdad, reporting the deaths of four soldiers in a bomb blast there. According to the Associated Press count, that brought the overall death toll among American troops to 4,000.
This week, the White House and the Pentagon will be formally reviewing U.S. strategy in Iraq. This morning, the president hears from General David Petraeus and the head of Central Command Admiral William Fallon. On Wednesday, the president sits down with the Joints Chiefs at the Pentagon for their assessment.
NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz joins us now with a look at what's likely to come up. And, Guy, first of all, why is this assessment happening at all? Remind of us of that.
GUY RAZ: Well, Renee, there are really three main reasons why. And I think the most important one has to do with when to stop pulling the troops out. Right now, the Pentagon is reducing the total number of troops in Iraq by around three to 4,000 a month. So by somewhere around August, that'll leave about 135 to 140,000 total troops stationed there. And at that point, the president will have to decide whether to keep reducing the troop presence or maintain it at that level.
The second reason, really, is because General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are coming back to Washington early next month to update Congress on the situation there and where they think it's headed. Now, you'll remember these two men testified last September. And so the White House and the Pentagon want to sort of start getting ready for that testimony.
And the final reason is the White House is now negotiating sort of a long term agreement with Iraq that is due to be wrapped up in July. So before that happens, they want to get a sense of where Iraq is now and where they believe it's headed.
MONTAGNE: And what kind of advice is the president expected to be getting from these different commanders?
RAZ: Well, from Petraeus and Admiral Fallon, it's pretty straightforward. Come August, General Petraeus wants to see a temporary freeze on the troop withdrawals. He basically wants to see whether 135,000 troops will be able to have the same impact on security and stability as 160,000, which actually was the total number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq at the height of the surge back in September.
When it comes to the commanders here in Washington, the service chiefs, their take is slightly different. They're going to probably defer to Petraeus on temporarily halting the reductions. But the chiefs, you know, they're more concerned about personnel matters, and particularly the Army and the Army's Chief of Staff General George Casey.
And he's been very explicit in his view that, you know, he believes Army deployments need to be shortened. Right now, a soldier goes to Iraq or Afghanistan for 15 months. That's the length of standard deployment - the longest, by the way, since the Second World War. And he wants to reduce those tour lengths to, at most, 12 months a year.
But among senior officers I've spoken to here in Washington, they generally believe that, you know, the violence will probably remain relatively steady through the year, even with fewer U.S. troops on the ground.
MONTAGNE: And just very briefly, what does this mean about what General Petraeus will tell Congress when he testifies next month?
RAZ: Well, it tells us a little bit - certainly, some of the details. But a lot of the details we won't know. Back in September - the last time he testified - Petraeus managed to surprise all of us with his decision to recommend very quick withdrawals from Iraq.
MONTAGNE: Guy, thank you very much. NPR's Guy Raz.