Monday, July 6, 2009

Col. Crazy's (Michael Steele) massacre in Iraq

"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.


Anonymous said...

Khatchadourian's "Kill Company" piece is too good to have its readership limited to New Yorker subscribers only. I'm a subscriber, and I just uploaded a PDF of the piece to rapidshare. Go to the link below to download it:

McCaffray said...


Anonymous said...

I served under Col Steele so I believe that I might be able to give you some more insight into these rumors which by the way were eventually proven to be rumors. I have read about an island just outside of bagdad that some spec ops team raided and murdered everyone including a 70 year old fishermen. A. Col Steele was not in charge of a special ops unit when this happened. B. I was on the island. C. No one was killed, in fact not a shot fired.

As far as the videos on utube of his speeches, I was at them all and they were awesome!. The people posting these speeches are leaving certain parts out and for a civilian it is easy to take what he is saying the wrong way. His speeches were meant for his troops and not the civilians who are taking their freedoms for granted and do so every day when they pick apart speeches and missions gone wrong. Its easy to sit back in the cheap seats. Its like back seat driving.

Bottom line is that there are a million BS stories about Col Steele. I mean there was a rumor that he chopped of an Iraqis ear once. I mean seriously, you are a moron if you believe that crap.

I was in his Brigade in Iraq and was sad to see him go and see his name destroyed as well as the reputation of my unit. He committed no war crimes. A war crime is flying a plane into a building of innocent civilians. A war crime in my opinion is some journalist who has never served taking rumors and twisting around the words to destroy the name of a soldier and his troops just so he can sell papers. A war crime in my opinion is not having the facts and basing your information on rumors and selling it as factual information.

I ask that you all please consider that what you are reading on the internet and seeing in the media controlled world is not necessarily true. My experience with the media is as follows: We went on a 2 week raid once and not a shot was fired. Dry hole. Its was a long hot 2 weeks. When we returned we were sitting in the chow hall watching the media report of our raid and the media was using old footage of every fire fight they had on tape and claiming it to be our operation. Of course we noticed the old uniforms and of course we were sitting there in shock because we had just gotten back from the mission and not a shot was fired. The media sells stories, they don't give you the facts. As a civilian though you would not know this and notice the different uniforms and all the little things that were plain as day for us. So of course my mother thought she saw my company on TV laying waste and of course I had to call home that night and explain that we were safe and that was not what happened at all. Putting my mother in fear in my opinion is a crime in itself and I do not appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

I served under COL Steele during the time of this article and the fact is that this man was not of the mold that either senior leadership wanted or one which was best for the area or the people of Iraq. The fact is also that he loved his soldiers. There was nothing more important than that. He was abrasive, aggressive,and and a lot of the other things that people have said about him, but he was also with his soldiers 90% of the time and spent most of his time ensuring that soldiers were prepared and postured for dominance in combat. As a line soldier and leader, that was all we could ask of him. I have served the US Army for 20 years and never saw a Brigade Commander as dedicated to his soldiers as he was. He may not have been the best strategic commander, but if I was to place my son in harms way, I would rather place him with someone like him than someone who thinks that "strategic" interests are more important than American Soldiers.

OuterMarker said...

I served under (then) LTC Steele and I deployed with him. I served under him as one of his staff officers and had the privilege of getting to know him up close.
The man is a genuine hero in my opinion and this country should be grateful that we had him leading our troops into combat. If you were a soldier serving under Steele, you knew that if you got into combat you would be more than ready. He was determined to make each man under his command effective "killers." BTW, for those of you that have forgotten, that's how wars are won--by killing the other man before he has a chance to kill you. I know for liberals and civilians who have never been to a combat zone, thats a hard concept to grasp.
The man is genuine and he truly CARED about every single soldier under his command. If the U.S. adopted his approach to warfighting, I'm convinced the "War on Terror" would have ended years ago, because we would have rendered anyone crazy enough to engage the U.S. completely ineffective and deterred the rest from trying anything.
Take it from me...the guy is legite and a warrior that loves his country.

Anonymous said...

I too served with Mike Steele in Iraq. He is a good (tough but fair) leader whom I would follow back into combat. As a now retired Sr NCO speaking, I don't think the Sr NCO has taken enough lumps for any command climate issues there may have been. Some Sr NCOs were setting cowboy examples in that brigade.

1SG (R)

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Anonymous said...

I find it truly amazing all of you fellow soldiers are still backing up this man. Whom which may I add much like all of you served with as well in several tours, he at times was a good leader in the sense he was constantly making sure we had the right equipment and working equipment may I add. But there was also things he constantly turned his back on and yes there was so brutal treatment done to those people and he knew about it. Plus he constantly covered up (what married higher ranking men were doing)the rapes of other lower ranking female soldiers. How can you sit back and praise a man who still did these things.... I guess thats what we call loyalty. I am glad I have a brain and I am no longer tied to such an evil person.

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Timothy Harrison said...

Tied or untied, you still lived! He didnt care if you cared for him but he always cared for you even if you didnt see it! The man was a loving, hardcore bada** and if you ever had contact with him he would be one of the reasons that you are still alive. I talked to the man almost everyday and eventhough he was tough on me and others I for one had deep respect for him and I persionally feel that i may not of made it home from deployment if it had not been knowing him! So give the man the respect he deserves and leave him out of all this crazyness. He has done nothing but fight for you and beside you! I would be proud to serve with him or any man that shared his point of view and who cared for his soldiers or any man the way that he did!

anon said...

The man is an absolute hero, I had the HONOR of being under his command with the Rakkasans Let Valor Not Fail. If he came to my house today and told me that we needed to go into the gates of hell to shoot the devil my reply would be HOOAH Sir.
The man loved his soldiers and we love him. In garrison he used to pull his pickup truck with a harness while we road marched.

~A Rakkasan 1-187 HHC MRT (QRF) 2004-2007.