U.S.: Some coalition partners' priority is not getting killed

Friday, May 21, 2004

BAGHDAD U.S. military sources said senior commanders have been concerned over the failure or refusal by several militaries in the coalition to fight Shi'ite insurgents in central and southern Iraq.

The sources said these non-U.S. coalition forces have demonstrated an unwillingness to sustain casualties in battles with the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army.

"The message relayed to some of these forces by both commanders and political leaders is that there's no sense in getting hurt or killed in Iraq," a U.S. military source said.

One exception has been the Polish unit, which demonstrated excellent defensive capabilities. But the Polish forces were said to have performed poorly in offensive missions.

The most effective forces apart from the United States have been those from Britain. Britain has deployed nearly 30,000 troops, the second largest in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.

On May 16, Italian troops withdrew from their base in the southern city of Nasseriya after the outpost was attacked by Mahdi Army combatants.

An Italian soldier was killed and 16 others were injured before the Italian commander ordered his troops to evacuate Nasseriya and redeploy in an air force base in Talil about 10 kilometers away.

The U.S. sources said the Italian force demonstrated little resistance in face of the Mahdi Army attack. They said the Italian soldiers, led by their commander, sought to flee after the first casualty.

"Most of these allies contributed forces to Iraq because of the generous U.S. aid package that was promised them, rather than any belief in the mission."

The result has been that with the exception of Britain, the contribution of coalition forces has not helped the U.S.-led effort to quell the Sunni and Shi'ite insurgencies in Iraq. The United States intends to increase troop deployment by 20,000 soldiers in Iraq over the next few months, including a brigade that will come from units deployed in Japan and South Korea.

Commanders for most of the non-U.S. coalition forces in Iraq acknowledge that force protection has been priority during their mission in Iraq. The spokesman for the Italian forces in Iraq, Maj. Antonio Sotelli, said Italian troops, seeking to avoid an escalation, did not return fire during the Mahdi Army attack in Nasseriya.

"We have all types of weapons and means to control the situation, but we do not want to retaliate in a violent way or inflict losses on the other side," Sotelli said. "We do not want to escalate the situation."

On May 17, Italian troops returned to their base in Nasseriya. Italian Chief of Staff Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola said the Shi'ite insurgents departed after being urged to do so by local Shi'ite leaders.

Publicly, U.S. military spokespeople have stressed their appreciation for the coalition partners. U.S. military officials acknowledged that U.S. commanders have also ordered tactical withdrawals from Shi'ite cities to prevent bloodshed. On Thursday, U.S. troops withdrew from Karbala in face of attacks by the Mahdi Army.

"The [Italian] commander on the ground made the proper force protection determination, realized that, look, this place isn't that important," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of coalition operations, said. "That was a simple, prudent measure taken by a commander on the ground for a period of time."

Privately, however, U.S. military sources said the combat performance of Italy and other coalition partners has reflected policy set by their governments in an effort to avoid casualties as well as friction with Shi'ite insurgents. The sources cited an appeal by Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini for U.S. military commanders to avoid direct attacks on such Shi'ite cities as Karbala and Najaf.

The U.S. military has detected deteriorating morale and capabilities in virtually all of the non-U.S. forces in Iraq, the sources said. They said that some allies such as Czech, Japan, Mongolia and South Korea have hardly fought in Iraq. Ukrainian troops were said to have fled the battle in central Iraq.

On May 15, British troops killed 16 Mahdi Army combatants during a clash between Basra and Amara. The fighting began when a British patrol encountered an ambush.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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