Alaska-based soldiers' deaths renew calls for withdrawal from Iraq

Five more troops killed this week

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The deaths of five more Fort Richardson soldiers within a week in Iraq has some critics calling for the end of the war, but Alaska's senior congressional member said premature withdrawal would leave Iraq in anarchy.

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"We're just dumping failure on top of failure," Rich Moniak, a member of Military Families Speak Out in Alaska, said Monday. "It's just plain wrong. We've got to get out. We don't belong there."

Since the Fort Richardson unit deployed last fall, 51 soldiers have been killed. Last year, 26 soldiers based out of Fort Wainwright were killed during a tour that ended in December.

At least 3,673 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Moniak said the decision made by President Bush in January to send an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq is not working. He said it's only allowed the number of casualties and injuries to rise, and that soldiers are increasingly returning severely injured.

"They will be impacted for the rest of their lives," he said.

More than 27,000 service-members have been wounded in Iraq since 2003, with about 45 percent of those not returning to duty, according to the Department of Defense. Of the Fort Richardson soldiers, at least 240 have been injured so far, said Army spokesman Capt. Richard Hyde.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Allen, an Army spokesman, said some members of the unit face frequent hostile contact because they routinely leave the relative safety of their bases to go on patrols.

"We're there to provide security for the country so democracy can take hold and the Iraqis can form a stable government," he said.

But an increasing number of deaths or injuries isn't reason to prematurely withdraw from the country, others counter.

"In my opinion, this is not Vietnam," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, in a statement. "If we left this country prematurely it would be absolute anarchy and al-Qaida would take over one of the largest oil-producing countries in the world."

Stevens is waiting for a pivotal September report due to U.S. Congress on political and military progress in Iraq before he decides what the next move should be, his spokesman said.

Three paratroopers were killed Saturday after a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle while they were conducting a mounted patrol near Hawr Rajab, Iraq, Allen said.

The soldiers were Sgt. Dustin S. Wakeman, 25, of Fort Worth, Texas; Cpl. Jason K. Lafleur, 28, of Ignacio, Colo.; and Pfc. Jaron D. Holliday, 21, of Tulsa, Okla. They were assigned to the 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.

Wakeman was a health care specialist who first joined the Army in September 2004. Holliday and Lefleur were both cavalry scouts; Holliday joined the Army in March 2005 and Lefleur joined in May 2005. All were stationed at Fort Richardson in 2005.

Two other Fort Richardson soldiers were killed July 31 at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq. Those soldiers' names haven't been released because of problems contacting the next of kin, Allen said.

Ten others were wounded during the same indirect fire attack.

One of the wounded paratroopers was initially reported in serious condition and as of Monday was still being treated at a military hospital, Allen said.

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