BASRA, Iraq – Michael Yon is an independent writer, photographer and former Green Beret who was embedded in Iraq for nine months in 2005. He has returned to Iraq for 2007 to continue reporting on the war. Here is a portion of his latest dispatch for FOXNews.com.
"Yeah, breaker 1-9, this here's the Rubber Duck, you got a copy on me Pigpen? C'mon."
"Ah yeah, 10-4 Pigpen, for sure, for sure. By golly, it's clean clear to Flagtown. C'mon."
"Yeah, that's a big 10-4 there Pigpen. Yeah, we definitely got the front door good buddy. Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy."
A young British soldier named Simon expected to be driving logistics trucks into Iraq, and so adopted the dusty old hit “Convoy” as his fight-song and personal anthem.
A man doesn’t have to wait long to hear Simon play it again, yet instead of barreling up Iraqi highways, Simon finds himself at Basra Air Station, shuttling occasional journalists and performing base duties, which often include escorting Iraqis hired for manual labor. Asked for his take on that task, Simon opined with tones of befuddlement and wonder, as when a person sees what appears to be intensely conflicting signals.
To Simon, the Iraqis are like a box of unrelated puzzles thrown together, with many of the pieces missing. He couldn’t seem to reconcile the scenes of Iraqis murdering Iraqis by the busload -- using bombs, knives, power drills, corrosive acid, even dragging each other behind cars -- with scenes of the endearing behavior he’s witnessed between grown Iraqi men, taking time out from their work on base to play.
They would stop working, Simon said, to play hide and seek, laughing like children. And when the Iraqi workers argued with one another, they yelled emotionally while picking up small pebbles to hurl at each other.
For Simon, these puzzle pieces did not fit with the rockets and mortars that rain down on this base, and the thousands of dead Coalition troops and workers. That part I followed, because during the writing of this dispatch, the base was attacked more than a dozen times, then a dozen times again. Parts have been written while wearing a helmet and body armor, laying prone on the ground.
Any perception that British forces have it easy down here in Basra is dead wrong. In the nearly three weeks I’ve been here, I’ve seen more mortar and rocket attacks than during my entire time in Iraq.
Per capita casualties parallel those for our troops up north. Last night, while answering e-mail, we twice all hit the ground and at least two Brits and a pizza-delivery man on base were wounded. By all yardsticks, the situation in Basra seems to be deteriorating rapidly.
According to British Lt. Col. Kevin Stratford-Wright, British forces were attacked about 20 times per week in January 2006. Nine months later, in September 2006, attacks began to skyrocket, reaching about 100 per week by February of 2007.
Nobody has an explanation for the storm, but once British forces ramped up offensive operations, attacks decreased to the current level of about 50 per week.
Unlike some other parts of Iraq, little if any compelling evidence of civil war is present in Basra. In Baghdad, by contrast, suicide bombers commonly strike several times per day, often into the very heart of guarded areas and scores of innocent victims are killed daily by bombs, guns and knives.
Meanwhile in Basra seemingly random, wholesale attacks are by comparison quite uncommon, and there have been few suicide attacks. While the overwhelming majority of attacks in Baghdad, or in provinces such as Nineveh and Diyala, are against Iraqis, down here in Basra, 90 percent of the attacks are against the British soldiers.
From a distance, it might appear that America’s most trusted and steadfast ally is packing out in the face of a fraction of the violence which American soldiers face in Ramadi, Fallujah, Baqouba …the list goes on. And British soldiers here do in fact look at their American counterparts with mixture of dismay and respect at the amount of abuse they take but still keep going.
The recent announcement that American soldiers’ tours had been extended to 15 months, in areas far more dangerous than Basra, was met with astonishment among British combat veterans here, followed quickly with true respect for their American brethren for keeping at it militarily, despite the political morass common to both London and Washington.
British combat tours are six months.
The Brits clearly are drawing in, drawing down and pulling out. The phase-out seems pragmatically based and also stems from a wider geographical frame of reference, because of the Brits' serious and growing commitment in Afghanistan.
Adjusting war plans to meet changing realities is a far cry from “cutting and running.” American military leaders are calling that same process "a surge."
Ask a combat soldier a question, you get an answer. Ask the combat soldier next to him the same question, you get a different answer.
There is wide and vibrant opinion among British soldiers and it runs the gamut from frustration with local mentalities that cling to futile violence, to disillusionment with politics, vexation with media, and consternation about the costs, calculated in so many kinds of capital. But all the British combat soldiers I've run missions with are of a like-mind when it comes to their readiness to fight on.