A raw deal for U.S. troops

The soldiers of the 343rd do not deserve to have their honor and integrity questioned.

Throughout the 2004 election, President George W. Bush has gleefully taken his Democratic opponent for president, Sen. John Kerry, to task for voting against last year’s $87 billion to fund the war in Iraq. With nauseating regularity, Bush has said, “There is nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat.”

Apparently, there is. Last week, an Army Reserve unit in Iraq refused to carry out a supply mission it deemed downright suicidal. Military spokesmen are not ruling out disciplinary action, and the president has yet to address the matter publicly.

But real supporters of U.S. troops in Iraq do not need to equivocate. Instead of being court-martialed, the 18 reservists deserve medals for blowing the whistle on a truly shameful state of affairs. Our troops are getting a raw deal in Iraq.

Supply missions are some of the most dangerous work in Iraq today. Insurgents have systematically targeted U.S. fuel convoys with roadside bombs and well-planned ambushes. Those attacks have helped push the number of U.S. deaths in Iraq to well more than 1,000.

Little wonder, then, that the men and women of the 343rd Quartermaster Company from Rock Hill, S.C., scoffed at a fuel run from their base in southern Iraq to a site north of Baghdad. Many of the unit’s trucks still do not have adequate armor, and convoys are routinely sent without a properly armed escort.

Those dirty details might surprise voters accustomed to hearing Bush claim that U.S. troops have all they need to succeed in Iraq. The facts tell a different story. The Bush administration has needlessly compounded its initial rush to war with an even bigger mistake.

U.S. troops have never had the support they need to win the peace in Iraq. Troop levels are stretched perilously thin, leaving convoys vulnerable and the military badly overextended. Many U.S. National Guard and reserve units make due with faulty equipment and insufficient firepower.

The soldiers of the 343rd do not deserve to have their honor and integrity questioned. The military has pledged to investigate last week’s incident. Congress should broaden that inquiry to include the conditions all of the approximately 140,000 troops serving in Iraq face.