Southern towns brace for Iraq deployments

According to a recent CNN poll, opposition to President Bush's handling of the Iraq war now stands at 70% -- the highest level ever. Two-thirds of the public oppose the war itself, and only 11% favor sending more troops.

But the Washington Post reports that the White House is "aggressively promoting" a plan to send "15,000 to 30,000 more troops" to Iraq -- "over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff." As Think Progress notes, the push seems to be coming at the behest of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, despite Bush's earlier promises to base his military strategy "on the sober judgment of our military leaders."

Many Southern base towns -- especially in North Carolina -- are already bracing for Iraq deployments. As the AP reports, about half of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune -- 28,000 soldiers in all -- will be sent by early 2007 to western Iraq including Fallujah.

Other base communities that will be affected:

* The 2nd Marine Division will be joined by another ground-combat team from Camp Lejeune, an Army Brigade Combat Team from Fort Stewart, Ga., and at least two Marine battalions from Camp Pendleton, Calif.

* The 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, which has bases in North Carolina and Beaufort, S.C., will be sending airplanes and helicopters.

* Army units from North Carolina's Fort Bragg also have soldiers in Iraq, and a major unit of the 82nd Airborne Division plans to leave for Afghanistan in January. The 82nd has about 6,000 paratroopers, including its helicopter crews, in Iraq, and some will be there until next summer.

The Army Brigade from Fort Stewart, Ga. was the subject of an interesting Wall Street Journal article last week, which highlighted how ground combat troops have been short-changed by a military culture that favors high-tech weaponry and space defense. It's worth quoting at length:

With just six weeks before they leave for Iraq, the 3,500 soldiers from the Third Infantry Division's First Brigade should be learning about Ramadi, the insurgent stronghold where they will spend a year.

Many of the troops don't even know the basic ethnic makeup of the largely Sunni city. "We haven't spent as much time as I would like on learning the local culture, language, and politics -- all the stuff that takes a while to really get good at," says Lt. Col. Clifford Wheeler, who commands one of the brigade's 800-soldier units.

Instead, the troops are learning to use equipment that commanders say they should ideally have been training with since the spring. Many soldiers only recently received their new M-4 rifles and rifle sights, which are in short supply because of an Army-wide cash crunch. Some still lack their machine guns or long-range surveillance systems, which are used to spot insurgents laying down roadside bombs. They've been told they'll pick up most of that when they get to Iraq.

The strains here at Fort Stewart -- one of the busiest posts in the U.S. military -- are apparent throughout the Army. They spotlight a historic predicament: The Iraq war has exposed more than a decade's worth of mistakes and miscalculations that are now seriously undermining the world's mightiest military force.

In the 15 years after the Cold War, senior military planners and civilian-defense officials didn't build a force geared to fighting long, grinding guerrilla wars, like Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead they banked on fighting quick wars, dominated by high-tech weapons systems.

The result: At a time when the war in Iraq is deepening, and debate over pulling out the troops is intensifying, the rising cost of waging the fight is outpacing even the Army's huge budget. The financial squeeze is leaving the Army short of equipment and key personnel.

Troops on the ground -- many hailing from Southern bases -- feel the brunt of these decisions.