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San Antonio Express-News

'This Country Understands What's At Stake'; Military Expert Salutes Four GIs ; McCaffrey Also Takes Ominous Look At Iraq

By Scott Huddleston

11 January 2005
Copyright © 2005 San Antonio Express-News. All rights reserved.

He's fought in Iraq, and in Vietnam. And as a military expert, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey says there are few comparisons between the two.

If U.S. leaders, however, fail to develop a clear plan to stabilize Iraq, the American public will lose faith - as it did during the Vietnam era, he said in an interview.

The former Clinton administration "drug czar," in town to honor four Purple Heart recipients Monday at Brooke Army Medical Center, warned that "we are in strategic peril in our current situation," with an armed forces pool being spread thin.

The current war in Iraq and the Vietnam War have casualty rates that are "basically the same," when comparing the number of troops with the number killed or injured, McCaffrey told an audience of nearly 300.

McCaffrey, a West Point professor, NBC analyst and frequent critic of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, didn't discuss his views on Iraq as medals were pinned on three soldiers wounded there, and another hurt in Afghanistan. But he did point out that more than 12,000 U.S. troops - some 11,600 in Iraq - have been killed or wounded in the war on terrorism.

"From a national perspective, you could say that isn't too bad of a price to pay," he told the group. "But let me put it in context. All of the casualty rates in Iraq right now are essentially at the level of Vietnam."

He said the war to contain 37 foreign terrorist organizations is justified, considering that "a small band of people" is protecting the world's wealthiest nation and its 290 million inhabitants.

"Don't you ever forget that this country understands what's at stake," he told the four medal recipients and their relatives.

Spc. Shaquib Khandakar, 22, of Queens, N.Y., is healing from severe burns and shrapnel wounds. Monday was the proudest day of his life, he said.

"I was thinking, 'God, I'm going to die today,'" when a car bomb blasted his Army vehicle in Iraq on Oct. 20, he added.

Spc. Nicholas Mapson, 20, is living in San Antonio while undergoing physical therapy, but hopes to return to his birthplace, Sterling, Ill., to become a police officer. He was injured by an anti-tank mine on the Afghanistan border with Pakistan.

"It's a lot different over there," he said. "You realize how much you miss your family, and how much they mean to you."

Also honored were Pfc. Benjamin Rosecrans, 22, of Albuquerque, N.M., left with burns and a broken, dislocated elbow by a car bomb in Mosul; and Sgt. Hector Santiago-Ortiz, 25, of Coamo, Puerto Rico, hurt when a car disguised as an Iraqi police car exploded in Ramadi.

After the emotional ceremony, Rosecrans' father, Don Rosecrans, said he was just grateful the Army took care of his son, who plans to return to his unit in Fort Lewis, Wash., after completing his recovery.

"After that, we don't know" what will occur, the father said.

In an interview afterward, McCaffrey said Rumsfeld "is in denial of the harsh realities of the current battlefield."

"The guy is so smart and cocky, I think he's intimidated the system," McCaffrey said.

"I think we really put ourselves in peril by going in with inadequate combat power, by making a series of fundamental misjudgments about the nature of the Iraq challenge, (and) dismissing the Iraqi armed forces," he said. "It wasn't just Rumsfeld - some generals that were prominently out there talking about expectations that were just silly on the face of it.

"What I want is fresh thinking, a strategy that works, transparency to the American people and a statement to Congress" on realistic costs of bringing stability to Iraq, McCaffrey said.

"The U.S. Army and the Marine Corps are going over a cliff in the next 24 months," McCaffrey said. "The wheels are coming off the institution.

"We're going to see our Apache pilots, engineer captains, platoon sergeants, and National Guard lieutenant colonels walking out of the Army and the Marine Corps in the next 24 months," he added.

"We did it after Vietnam, and it took 10 years to recover. We don't have 10 years to recover in this war.

"The American people aren't going to walk away from 12,000 casualties, unless they think there's a strategy that's not going to work," he said, adding:

"And that's what happened in Vietnam."

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