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Soldier Mom
Tracey Caldwell Shares More Ideas From Her Son in Iraq
By TRACEY CALDWELL 06/20/2007 11:21 AM ET
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Someone wrote to tell me that my son had not given any details for his plan to secure Iraq, so I wrote and asked him for more.

My son says that his plan to get out of Iraq as soon as possible would require securing the borders to prevent the "refueling" of the insurgency, and letting the Iraqi army do the fighting in the cities and villages. Even if they were not fully prepared, they would learn. He would also build refugee camps for the smart people who don't want to be caught in the middle.

He said that while we have had some successful missions in Iraq, they have mostly been "Operation Chase Out the Bad Guys" when what we need is "Operation Control the Border." He acknowledged:

"No one joins the Army or goes to war thinking that they are going to sit in an M-1114 (a Humvee), watching the road in the middle of a 120 degree day, not a private, not a sergeant, not a lieutenant, not a commander, not a colonel, and not a general. Everyone pictures themselves jumping off a helicopter onto a battlefield and killing lots and lots of bad guys. Even cooks, finance clerks, mechanics, and communication specialists, believe they are going to do something cool, like killing bad guys. So you can't really expect them to get excited about something like border patrol. The commanders certainly aren't going to volunteer their unit to do border control."

This creates a problem for the generals. As my son explains it, even if the generals recognize the need to secure borders, they have a hard time delegating it to the hundreds of commanders at their disposal because no one wants to do border patrol. Therefore, no commander is going to come up with any good plans. The general could turn to his staff, but they are desk jockeys, and no one wants to be on a mission planed by a desk jockey. That would leave the generals to plan their own operation. Unfortunately, most generals probably haven't built their own operations since they were captains in Panama, or even Vietnam.

Building operations are not simple, especially one as complex and important as securing borders in Iraq. There are so many things to consider, like refugee camps. Where should we put them? Can we get help from other countries? How do we feed and take care of all the refugees. The bases we have built, do we give them to the Iraqi Army? Should we build new bases on the borders? How do we transition for the current operation to the new one? How would we train soldiers to pursue this sort of operation? Do we have the right equipment? Do we have enough men? If we need more men, how many? Where would we put them? Can we create secure supply routes to the border to transport the things the soldiers need? Where should we start first on the borders? What are the hot spots? How could we keep soldiers from starting fights with other countries? How long would we have to secure the borders for the insurgents in Iraq to run out of money and resources? He said, "There are lots of other things to consider that I probably can not even imagine, so the generals have a lot of work ahead of them."

So from my son's little spot on the battlefield, with his twenty-seven years of life and six years of military experience, these are his ideas for a plan that might eventually lead to getting our soldier home from Iraq.

Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier, Democratic Party Editor of, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at

Soldier Mom
Soldier Reponds to Slogger Readers' Criticism of His Controversial Idea
By TRACEY CALDWELL 06/14/2007 12:28 PM ET
FORT STEWART, GA-MAY 17: A soldier with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division walks along Warrior's Walk before a ceremony for five soldiers who recently died in in Iraq.
Stephen Morton/Getty
FORT STEWART, GA-MAY 17: A soldier with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division walks along Warrior's Walk before a ceremony for five soldiers who recently died in in Iraq.

My column last week about my son's suggestion to fire one general for each soldier killed received many responses. The moms who wrote overwhelmingly liked the idea, but many of the men wrote to tell me why this wouldn't work. I forwarded some of the emails to my son and he sent me the following response:

For those who think firing a general will cause them to keep us inside the wire:

Every officer knows it is impossible to keep every soldier in their unit from being killed. My point about firing generals is that they have the power to end this war at anytime they want, which is the only way they could stop the loss of American soldiers.

This war is not as complicated as everyone thinks it is. There are strategies that could put Iraq into a relatively secure state, but little motivation for them to enact such strategies. None of us has any real motivation to make the war end, especially when we are making so much money over here. Even an enlisted soldier like me is making money. With no bills to worry about, I am able to save $2000 a month.

But things would change if there was the possibility that at any moment the generals could find themselves looking for a new job. If the generals did not want to get fired, they would make this war end so we could come home and stop getting ourselves killed.

I realize that some of my son's attitude results from multiple deployments and seeing too many friends die--some deaths he feels could have been prevented. My son is not alone in second-guessing the decisions of the military leadership. Many moms told me about their sons' suggestions for conducting this war. All of the ideas were interesting.

One mother said her son had suggested that Iraqi troops should be trained out of country--that removing them from their family and friends would help establish discipline and determine friend from foe. Other soldiers had told their moms about better vehicles and equipment that they thought would make operations more successful. Some soldiers made observations I have heard from my son--that not enough emphasis is being put on securing the border and cutting off supply lines to insurgents.

I am certain that soldiers in every war have second-guessed the decisions of their leaders. Their perspective is often limited by where they sit on the battlefield, but sometimes they have insight that only those on the ground can have.

I certainly don't have the military experience to evaluate their suggestions. But if these are the kind of young men and women who look at their situation and think about how it could be handled better, they will come home from this war and go on to become leaders--in the military, government, or in their local communities-and their experiences will influence their decisions in the future.

Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier, Democratic Party Editor of, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at

Advises Iraqi Gov to Do More on Trafficking for Involuntary Servitude
Washington, UNITED STATES: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announces the release of the 7th Annual Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 12 June 2007 at the US Department of State in Washington, DC.
Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty
Washington, UNITED STATES: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announces the release of the 7th Annual Department of State "Trafficking in Persons Report" 12 June 2007 at the US Department of State in Washington, DC.

In its 2007 Human Trafficking Report released Tuesday, the US State Department criticizes the Iraqi government for not doing enough to combat the influx of low-wage workers being brought in from South and Southeast Asia under conditions of involuntary servitude, but fails to acknowledge the role the US government plays in creating the jobs that are being filled by this forced labor.

Instead of being ranked with most countries, Iraq appears under a "Special Cases" heading, because it was in political transition during the reporting period. The description of the problem of involuntary servitude is lifted directly from the 2006 report, which was the first year that the State Department identified non-sexual labor trafficking in Iraq since the invasion.

Iraq is also a destination country for men and women trafficked from South and Southeast Asia for involuntary servitude as construction workers, cleaners, and domestic servants. Some of these workers are offered fraudulent jobs in safe environments in Kuwait or Jordan, but are then forced into involuntary servitude in Iraq instead; others go to Iraq voluntarily, but are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude after arrival. Although the governments of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Philippines have official bans prohibiting their nationals from working in Iraq, workers from these countries are increasingly coerced into positions in Iraq with threats of abandonment in Kuwait or Jordan, starvation, or force....

But the 2007 edition went to greater lengths in criticizing the inaction of the Iraqi government in combating human trafficking within its borders.

The government did not prosecute any trafficking cases this year; nor did it convict any trafficking offenders. Furthermore, the government could not offer protection services to victims of trafficking, and it reported no efforts to prevent trafficking. Iraq should significantly increase criminal investigations of internal and transnational trafficking for both commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude.

While the Iraqi government certainly has the responsibility to prosecute crimes committed on its soil, it seems unfair to shift the burden of enforcement for this problem onto its fledgling security forces, particularly since their presence would not even be allowed on construction sites such as that of the new US embassy, where rumors of forced labor have run rampant.

Following up on complaints of abusive labor practices by First Kuwaiti, the contractor managing the embassy project, Howard J. Krongard, the State Department’s inspector general, flew to Baghdad for what he describes as a “brief” review on Sept. 15.

“Nothing came to our attention,” he wrote in a nine-page memorandum following his inspection of the work conditions at the Baghdad embassy construction site. After interviewing an unstated number of workers from the Philippines, India, Nepal and Pakistan, Krongard concluded there was no evidence of labor smuggling, trafficking or other abuses.

One former labor foreman at the embassy site who recently read Krongard’s review told Slogger it was “bull shit.” Another former First Kuwaiti employee viewed it as “a whitewash.”

Meanwhile, Justice Department trial attorneys Andrew Kline and Michael J. Frank with the civil rights division have been contacting former First Kuwaiti employees and others for interviews and documents, but declined to comment on the ongoing investigation other than to say they are looking into allegations of labor trafficking. This week, Slogger reported that the Philippines government is also investigating the recruiting firms that supply workers for First Kuwaiti's embassy project.

Even as it challenges Iraqi leaders for failing to take on labor trafficking, the State Department still considers First Kuwaiti a contractor in good standing. But beyond the specific example of the embassy project, it's still difficult to stomach the arrogance of the State Department's criticism, considering that most of the foreign nationals working in Baghdad could, through multiple levels of subcontracting, trace their top boss back to the US government.

Hot Pursuit Common, Iraq Unlikely to Complain About Anti-PKK Operations
By ALI KOKNAR 06/07/2007 10:12 AM ET
Ankara, TURKEY: Mourners pray next to the coffins of victims of a suspected PKK bomb attack during a funeral ceremony in Ankara, 24 May 2007.
Ankara, TURKEY: Mourners pray next to the coffins of victims of a suspected PKK bomb attack during a funeral ceremony in Ankara, 24 May 2007.

Terrorist landmines exploding, paramilitary police stations being overrun, helicopters shot down, and cross-border incursions: The were daily headlines in Turkish newspapers covering the campaign against PKK terrorism in the first half of the 1990s. In the last few months they have returned to the front pages after the PKK renounced their so-called ceasefire (which never existed anyway, according to the “contact” tallies over the last few years). Fueled by supplies of military grade high explosives and modern weapons acquired in the "arms bazaar" in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, the PKK has launched a spring offensive against Turkish security forces and civilians alike.

From 1983 to 1998, Turkey conducted no less than 33 cross-border incursions into Iraq to route the PKK. Some of those involved only air power, while others were combined arms operations, including some at Corps-strength (30,00-50,000 troops) lasting for weeks and months, penetrating over 80 kilometers deep into Iraqi territory. Since then, Turkey has maintained about half a dozen forward operating/fire bases (FOBs) 2-3 kilometers inside northern Iraq, with a combined troops strength of a couple of battalions in total, including armor and artillery assets. One of the FOBs at Bamerni airbase has been frequently visited and photographed by the international media over the years.

The incursion of Turkish troops this week was simply a limited hot pursuit, involving infantry and Special Forces numbering a few battalions and supported by fixed and rotary wing air assets. Turkish artillery has been pounding PKK targets inside northern Iraq for months now, with the Turkish Air Force flying reconnaissance missions and a ground-attack mission on June 06, according to the Turkish press.

Cynics speculate that the approaching July 22 general elections in Turkey and high profile attacks in major Turkish cities, such as the one in the national capital Ankara on May 22, pressure on the AKP government to be seen to be “tough on terrorism”. However, the massive Turkish troop deployment near the Iraqi border is routine, repeated every spring as the snow melts and the terrain becomes easier to negotiate for the estimated 3,500+ PKK terrorists who use northern Iraq as a home base.

Given the existing US troop commitment elsewhere in Iraq, the Turkish authorities have realized they can not expect somebody else to do their job for them. They can not continue to “take it on the chin” either. The body count in the first week of June is already 8 troops and 2 civilians dead and 32 wounded, against 4 PKK dead and 1 wounded. Thanks to their emphasis on asymmetric warfare relying on IEDs, the PKK is no longer suffering the kill ratios the Turkish security forces enjoyed in the 1990s.

While US authorities have called on Turkey to not invade northern Iraq, recurring incidents of hot pursuit are unlikely to draw opposition from the US, or from Baghdad for that matter, as long as the numbers don't exceed more than a full brigade on the ground and do not proceed much deeper into Iraq than the vicinity of the existing Turkish FOBs.

The PKK terrorism problem is further complicated by the fact that it does not only concern Turkey, Iraq and the US, but Iran and Syria as well. Turkish authorities positively identified the members of a PKK squad, which murdered 4 Turkish lumberjacks on May 31, as Syrian and Iranian nationals. At least one PKK “general”, Fahman Hussein, is known to be a Syrian. The PKK also operates inside Iran both to stage terrorists before attacks in Turkey and to attack Iranian forces. Iran has so far only used artillery to attack PKK targets inside Iraq, but Iranian authorities are watching what the Turkish military is doing on the Iraqi side of the border very closely.

The coming summer weeks and months are likely to bring more PKK IED blasts in major Turkish cities killing and maiming civilians, boosting the existing Turkish popular support for Turkish military incursions against PKK bases in Iraq. While an invasion-size operation--such as the Corps-level incursions of the 1990s--would require civilian government approval and perhaps even a parliamentary mandate (as is required by the constitution to send Turkish troops abroad) limited hot-pursuits, such as the current ongoing operations, lie at the discretion of the Turkish generals. Although a bilateral agreement between Turkey and Iraq allowing hot pursuit up to 5 kilometers deep expired in 1988, Turkish military lawyers think a 60-year-old treaty between Turkey and Iraq still provides legal grounds. What kind of a domestic and international arrangement the Turkish authorities can reach to establish a 30 kilometer wide cordon-sanitarie on the Iraqi side along the border, remains to be seen, though Turkey is turning to the UN for that purpose. ---

Ali M. Koknar is a private security consultant in Washington, DC, specializing in counterterrorism and international organized crime. His e-mail is
Soldier Mom
Soldier Mom's Son Poses Idea for Reducing Casualty Count
By TRACEY CALDWELL 06/06/2007 11:21 AM ET
FORT STEWART, GA - MAY 17: A soldier with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division walks along Warrior's Walk before a memorial tree dedication ceremony held for five soldiers who recently died in in Iraq May 17, 2007 at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Stephen Morton/Getty
FORT STEWART, GA - MAY 17: A soldier with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division walks along Warrior's Walk before a memorial tree dedication ceremony held for five soldiers who recently died in in Iraq May 17, 2007 at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Over time, the constantly rising death toll makes it harder to maintain confidence that my son will come home safely. The other day, I was discussing with him how President Bush envisions American troops being in Iraq long-term--fifty years or more--like Korea.

I told my son I couldn't see the American people even considering a long-term presence in Iraq as long as the death toll remained so high. In Korea we don't have a hundred soldiers dying a month. My son said, "Getting the death toll down is easy. You don't want soldiers to die, you just put in a policy--a soldier dies, a general gets fired." He said with a policy like that--one dead soldier equals one fired general--not many soldiers would die.

I told him I did not see how a policy like that could work, at the rate we are losing soldiers, we would run out of generals. But my son disagreed, "No, mom, we got lots of generals. We could afford to fire a few. Besides, it would be good for the guys who want promotions. But you wouldn't see soldiers dying if generals were getting fired. They would only send us on missions where they knew we had everything we needed to be safe."

My son has settled back in at his forward operating base in Iraq. Things have been slow; they have been staying behind the wire. He has even enrolled in some online courses to fill up his time. I am glad he has the opportunity for independent study, since he has not had much time to work on his education since the war on terror began. Most of his deployments have kept him too busy.

But even more reassuring to me is, if they are staying behind the wire, then he is most likely safe. But when I talk to my friends, I start to feel a little guilty--their sons are out on missions, facing danger daily. But I know my son has been out, in danger when theirs were safe. Danger comes and goes in a war zone.

I have friend whose son is preparing for his first deployment, while she prepares herself mentally. Years ago her youngest son died in a tragic accident. She says there is no way she can handle losing another son, yet she knows that she must face that possibility. I try to reassure her--my son has been on multiple deployments and has always come home safely. But we both know there are no guarantees.

I suspect more than a few generals would object to my son's plan for reducing the death toll. We pay generals to win wars and they would probably say a policy like that would interfere with their job. I am certain generals do not intentionally endanger soldiers unnecessarily. But I, like most military families, worry about the increasing number of casualties and how long our nation can sustain such losses. A soldier's death is not just a loss for the family; it is a loss for the nation.

Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier, Democratic Party Editor of, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at

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