DEBORAH AMOS, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Deborah Amos, sitting in for Alex Chadwick and Madeleine Brand.
Coming up on the program, a top U.S. military adviser gives us his evaluation of the troop surge in Iraq.
But first, we go to the region and to NPR's John Burnett, who spent this week embedded with U.S. troops southeast of Baghdad. These troops are Task Force 115, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division at the Fort Benning, Georgia. They're some of the last U.S. soldiers assigned to the so-called surge in Baghdad and surrounding areas.
Welcome to DAY TO DAY, John.
JOHN BURNETT: It's great to be here, Deb.
AMOS: So tell us about this area of operations.
BURNETT: Tonight I'm at a post called Combat Outpost Cleary. It's not too far from the Tigris River - as you said, southeast of Baghdad. It's one of the newest posts that's been built as part of the surge. It's a multi-ethnic area. You find Sunni and Shia down here, unlike some parts of the north.
AMOS: Now, U.S. officials and commanders keep stressing that the main enemy in Iraq is al-Qaida. But you're in a mixed area, so I gather that U.S. soldiers there are facing other enemies as well.
BURNETT: They've got every group down here shooting at the Americans. The Shiite militias who are loyal to the anti-American cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr - there are lots of them. There are Sunni extremists, splintered groups of them - all Baathists. And then there is al-Qaida in Iraq.
Today I went to another combat outpost called K-Hill(ph), which is the - really, the farthest southern extreme of the U.S. surge. And when the troops arrive, there was actually Sunni fighting Sunni down there. And then they turned their guns and their roadside bombs against the U.S. troops. And one lieutenant told me it seemed to me the enemy of my enemy is my enemy.
And so down here they don't really abide by the shorthand of the administration that it's all al-Qaida. That's actually the minority of all the fighters down here who are training their weapons at the Americans.
AMOS: So can you describe a little bit, if you can, what the American forces are doing to flesh out all these insurgents from all kinds of groups?
BURNETT: U.S. troops have come down here in this area, which has really been ignored by coalition forces for these four years. And so it's given these insurgent groups time to really entrench here, so now that the troops are down here, they're basically waiting for contact. And that contact usually happens in the form of, you know, traditional guerilla insurgencies of small arms and mortars and rockets and snipers.
In the case down here, the roadside bombs, these deep buried bombs are phenomenal things - 200-300 pounds ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which can flip a Bradley or an Abrams tank.
AMOS: Are U.S. soldiers there aware of the fierce debate in Washington this week?
BURNETT: You know, they're sort of studiously indifferent to it in a way, that the work is so difficult and the heat is so grueling. I asked a number of them about, you know, the low support for the war and that their actions are being watched under a microscope, and they get their mission in the morning and they go do it, and they hope they come back alive.
AMOS: This is your first time back in Iraq since the invasion more than four years ago. How different is it today than the story that you were covering back then?
BURNETT: Oh my lord. It's like a sergeant told me, who was - he was in the invasion and it's his first time back. And he said I thought we had made more progress. As a journalist, when I left Baghdad, I hired a car and drove to Kuwait and did interviews along the way. Today to do that would be suicide. Westerners, and particularly Americans, can only travel in heavily armed convoys in most of the country because of retaliatory violence and criminal kidnapping. It's the same thing in Baghdad.
You really can't go out of the NPR bureau. You can't go to cafes. You can't go visit people in their homes. The only way to travel outside the capital is with a 50-caliber machine gun bolted on top of a Humvee.
And so in one sense the sort of helpfulness that I sensed right after the invasion in Baghdad has been replaced by a mixture - in some places an anger at the U.S. occupation and just the sadness that Iraqis are slaughtering each other.
AMOS: Thank you very much, John Burnett, who's reporting southeast of Baghdad. And stay safe.
BURNETT: Thank you, Deb.
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