Photo: LTC Timothy Karcher meeting with Sadr City leaders shortly before signing over jurisdiction to Iraq last month on June 18 -- and shortly before losing both legs in an Iranian-supplied roadside bomb on June 28.
I just this morning received the following email from a reader about my most recent column "Allies Don't Declare Victory Over Each Other":
I appreciate your fervor and feelings about Mr. al-Maliki's comments, but I must say that your biting commentary regarding the quote from Lt. Col Karcher has driven me to reply....You may not be aware, but on the day of the signover of the combat positions in Sadr City [DW: according to media reports, the signover was 10 days earlier], Lt. Col. Karcher's convoy was hit by a IED attack ... and Karcher [lost] both his legs. During the return of the convoy after evacuating casualties, they were hit again resulting in [the death of his driver].
This was the first that I, no casual consumer of news (particularly about Iraq), heard of this terrible news. In searching for more information online, I found no report of LTC Karcher's grievous June 28 injuries in the New York Times, which had carried the original June 26 story that I quoted from in my column, nor in the Washington Post, nor the Washington Times. The Washington Examiner logged the incident into an Iraq round-up. I found very few and sparing news accounts elsewhere. ABC's blog carried some key details. Here, putting available accounts together, is what happened.
Around noon on June 28, LTC Karcher was riding near the Sadr City slums in a mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle when it was hit by a deadly shaped charge known as an explosively-formed projectile (EFP) -- the kind of bombs supplied to Iraqis by Iran. LTC Karcher, on his third tour in Iraq and days away from leaving to see his wife and three daughters, sustained the force of this attack, which blew off his legs above the knees. Ordinarily, he would have been evacuated by helicopter, but a dust storm had grounded all aircraft, so he had to be driven to Baghdad's Combat Support Hospital, where he was stabilized and eventually flown elsewhere for further medical care. He is now at Walter Reed. After delivering their commander to the hospital, the patrol that had just evacuated LTC Karcher was also hit by an EFP and small arms fire during which LTC Karcher's driver, Sgt. Timothy A. David, 28, of Gladwin, Michigan, was killed.
That June 28 roadside bomb was not LTC Karcher's first EFP attack. According to ABC News, in December 2006, while delivering fuel, blankets and stuffed animals to Iraqis, his vehicle was hit by an EFP, wounding him in the shoulder and killing his driver, Sgt. Jay R. Gauthraux, 26, of Thibodaux, La. After recovering, LTC Karcher returned to duty, telling one interviewer something about not being able to stand it behind the lines while his men were in the fight.
As ABC's Martha Raddatz wrote, June 28 was a "terrible, terrible day for the soldiers of the 2-5 Cavalry Division.
it was a terrible, terrible day for America as well. That is, there is something else Americans as a people should know regarding LTC Karcher, something that makes his catastrophic wounds significant not only to his men and his loved ones, his community and his peers, but to the nation as a whole; indeed to the history of US involvement in Iraq. LTC Karcher was commander of the Army's 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. In this command position, LTC Karcher had recently signed the documents for the transfer of power from the U.S. to the Iraqis in Sadr City. In other words, 10 days after the 11th Iraqi Army Division took control of security for Sadr City, and two days before the Iraqis celebrated their "victory" over the US, the former US commander of the Sadr City sector sustained a grievous attack. No mention by the Iraqis, no mention by the US, hardly any mention by the media.
At a minimum, there should be an investigation to determine whether LTC Karcher wa targeted, and if so, by whom.
My column, written before I knew LTC Karcher had been hit, was an attack on Maliki's surreal, disgusting and repeated declarations of victory over US forces, and the accommodating echoes of this "victory" emanating from our top military brass, from Gen. Odierno on down (and including a comment from LTC Karcher). In my opinion, this deferential US policy only obscures the fact that the Iraqis are no allies of ours, and the sooner we come to this obvious conclusion, the better. But my emailer asked me
not to disparage the character of individuals who are putting themselves in harms way, following the orders of their superiors, and achieving their mission as assigned. They do not make the political decisions, but perform the tasks asked of them.
LTC Karcher's grievous injurious suffered while driving over a joint- Iranian-Iraqi boobytrap underscore in the most grisly way the extent to which our soldiers repeatedly put themselves in harm's way -- on a deeply tragic fool's errand to, in effect, Westernize a sharia-based Islamic culture. But does their putting themselves in harm's way exempt from criticism the statements they make in the implementation of what I believe is a misguided US policy? In other words, as a columnist, may I not criticize what Odierno et al ever say in explanation and advancement of a wasteful and damaging US foreign policy? While fully aware of the staggering heroism of these soldiers -- and, in LTC Karcher's case, now deeply distressed to hear of his life-altering injuries -- I don't believe a citizen ever gives up his right to express such opinions. I would add that this horrific last-days Sadr City incident, along with its disgraceful non-coverage in our media, only intensifies my opposition to a policy that has so exposed our brave men to injury and possible death for what is increasingly proven to be, certainly in recent "democratizing" years, an ultimately pointless misadventure.
Here is LTC Karcher's comment to the NYT in the context of my column:
The New York Times describes "a drastically reshaped American military posture has emerged, largely because of Mr. Maliki's insistence," and notes that the rapid dismantlement of bases and outposts often is carried out "during the dark of night." Transport and resupply convoys are taking place at night, too -- all, presumably, in order to bolster Maliki's claims of "victory." As one of Maliki's political cronies put it, "They (U.S. troops) will be invisible for the people. They will turn into genies."
"Genies?" Does that mean Maliki has the USA plugged up in a bottle?
Certainly, we don't talk like free agents. Among the 150-plus bases and outposts the United States has closed in Iraqi cities this year are some U.S. commanders still considered crucial. About one such base, Brig. Gen. John M. Murray told the Times: "This is one we wanted. The Iraqi government said `no,' so now we are leaving."
This doesn't sound exactly Patton-esque, but would that we were leaving the whole sorry country. Meanwhile, the Times reports, "decisions on what Americans remain where -- doing what -- ultimately now rest with the Iraqis, and the Americans have deferred in negotiations."
Me, I feel sick.
But apparently not Lt. Col. Timothy M. Karcher, commander of forces departing Sadr City: "We will be gone in whatever way the Iraqi government tells us to be gone." Now, there's a rousing war quotation for you. Quick -- someone write a new verse to the "The Caissons Go Rolling Along."
The Times report continues: "The Americans have been strikingly sensitive" -- naturally -- "to Mr. Maliki's political position, emphasizing Iraqi primacy in all public remarks." For example, "they have declined to specify how many American troops will remain in cities, seemingly fearful of undercutting Mr. Maliki's public declarations of a full withdrawal."
What, no "Kick Me" stickers? Sorry to interrupt the old Fourth of July weenie roast, but doesn't it bother a single American out there that the United States is just kind of hanging around Iraq, full-metal rent-a-cops, waiting for some word, any word, from the self-anointed victor over the United States?
Of course, the main point here is not what we perceive as Maliki's ingratitude, or his disgraceful disregard of those Americans and allies who have fallen in Iraq. The main point of the prime minister's shocking statement is this: Iraq is not on the same side as the United States.
I'm afraid this will shock most Americans, but just let it sink in; it will explain a lot about the last six years. Meanwhile, the simple fact is, allies don't declare victory over each other. No doubt this presents a problem, at least for those among us who have claimed "victory" in Iraq for (not over) the United States. They and Maliki can't both be right. Someone is being played for a chump.
My suggestion? We should take this Fourth of July weekend to declare U.S. independence all over again -- only this time from Iraq.