"Kill Company" by Raffi Khatchadourian in the recent New Yorker is a damning, disturbing, devastating, and depressing portrayal of Col. Michael Steele and the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne. I found myself full of anger, close to tears, about their treatment of Iraqis, as I did while reading Shadid's Night Draws Near, or Hedges' and al Arian's America's War Against Iraqi Civilians. Reading it was also frustrating; Steele's strategy, if you can call it that, was detrimental to the US objectives there.
The article focuses on Steele's general approach to fighting insurgents in Samarra, Salah ad Din province in and around 2006. The approach was completely and totally centered around killing, thus the name 'Kill Company'. His men were to root out and slaughter 'insurgents' at any cost; shoot first, think later. Insurgents, for example, were NOT to be brought in for questioning, better dead, Steele believed. Another colonel in Samarra serving with Steele was stopped only at the last minute from parading a body of a dead insurgent through the town. Imagine the cultural implications of this 'tactic' that would create tens if not hundreds of more 'insurgents.' In another incident displaying Steel and Co.'s brilliant methodology, they bombed a house in which an insurgent was hiding...alongside a pregnant woman. They refused to apologize to her family. Houses of and stores of suspected insurgents were razed a la Israel. Reconstruction were not part of Steele's approach. In fact, he refused to spend any funds on such projects.
Khatchadourian juxtaposes Col. Crazy's (who clearly has serious issues leftover from losing men in Somalia, not surprising the army didn't realize this and sent him back out) strategy with that of Col. Chiarelli who understood the importance of building relationships with Iraqis, mutual respect, working together, and electricity, water, health and education projects. The article also draws broader points about how detrimental Col Crazy's strategy was to US mission in Iraq. His story is a microcosm of the major reason why we failed in Iraq. Collective punishment. Disrespect. Lack of cultural understanding. These 'tactics' turned Iraqis that may have fought for their country into the camps of extremists. For example it refers to a map which showed the insurgency was low in areas where there was electricity, plumbing, good social services. Col Crazy refused to spend any money on reconstruction projects in his fiefdom in Salah ad Din.
Reading the article while reading Shadid's Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War made it particularly more poignant and meaningful and made Steele's actions seem all the more harmful. Shadid details, through his own unique countless firsthand accounts (while he was raised in American he is Arab (Lebanese) and speaks Arabic), throughout the book how Iraqis perceived American soldiers and their actions; his conversations seem to address the exact actions of Steele and his men. While this article shows the US perspective on kicking in doors and razing houses, Shadid shows how these actions affected Iraqis and most importantly directly created hundreds more of the insurgents for Steele to kill. So, Steele, and other military men of his mindset, created insurgents, many previously innocent hardworking Iraqis, then killed them. He created his own little Iraq War game. From the sound of it, seems like he liked this a lot.
(I am currently working on a longer post on Shadid's book, look for it in coming days.)
Unfortunately, this article requires a New Yorker subscription for the moment. Fortunately, a reader posted a link to a pdf file, see comment below. THANK YOU, whoever you are.