Twelve days ago, I returned from my third trip to the Middle East, visiting Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over the course of one, eye-opening week. I had the opportunity to meet with Illinois soldiers who put their lives in harm's way every day and see for myself the effects of the "surge" in Iraq.
Like my previous visits, I felt as though I was witnessing first-hand the worst foreign policy mistake in our nation's history.
Flying into Baghdad, our helicopter lands in a cloud of brown dirt and we walk our way toward Patrol Base Murray through a foot of deep, fine baby powder dust. The heat is furnace-like: over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Stacks of plastic water bottles can be found at every turn. The minute you sit or stop, someone hands you a water bottle. In Iraq, water can mean the difference between life and death. Recently, a member of the Patrol Base tank crew sat for 10 hours in the heat and died of heat stroke.
Colonel Ferrell is in charge of the Patrol Base. He laughs about calling his soldiers "kids" and "sweethearts," but quickly adds they are the best fighting men and women he has ever been privileged to lead. For 20 minutes, he walks us across an aerial photograph showing the progress he has made. He tells us Al Qaeda operatives intimidate the local people by turning off the irrigation pumps needed for their crops and shutting down the electric power station to show their strength. Finally, the locals have gotten fed up and are telling his soldiers where to find Al Qaeda safe houses.
Col. Ferrell's unit is scheduled to be deployed for 15 months. Next September they will move out. I ask him whether the Iraqi Army or Police will take over. From his answer it is clear there is no post-surge follow-up plan.
As we begin to make our way back toward our transportation to our next destination, one of the senior officers waits until we are alone. He tells me 15-month deployments are just too long. By the end of twelve months my soldiers have "lost their edge, they're just going through the motions." And the 12 months between deployments is only half what they really need to reconstitute their units, rest them, train them and give them a chance to keep their families together.
"When I left, my daughter was in the sixth grade. When I get back she'll be in the eighth. It's a long time to be gone," he tells me.
As we depart in the helicopter that will carry us back to the relative safety of the Green Zone, the dust swirls around us. The only thing that remains clear is that we are no closer to a resolution to this grave error than we were almost five years ago.
When the Senate reconvenes this September, I will make sure that bringing the war in Iraq to a close remains our top priority. When the White House reports on the surge and General Petraeus testifies before the Senate next month, we must measure progress not just by our military's performance, which has been tremendous -- but by the more important yardstick of whether or not the Iraqi Government and the Bush Administration have done the hard political and diplomatic work needed to bring that country together.
As I saw first-hand during my trip to the Middle East this month, our men and women serving abroad have fought courageously. Now it's up to the politicians to bring about an end to the Iraq War -- and that will be my top priority when I return to Washington in September.Sincerely,
Dick DurbinU.S. Senator
P.S. After reading this message and watching the video, please forward this email to everyone you know. Help me get the word out about my recent trip to Iraq. Thanks for your help.