NEW YORK - At Fort Bragg, the largest U.S. army installation in the world
and home to the famed 82nd Airborne Division, the mood is not exactly buoyant.
''There are people here who are being deployed for the third time,'' said
Lou Plummer, a veteran with a son on active duty. ''At least 50 people from
the base have been killed in Iraq.''
The total U.S. death toll since the start of the war is now 1,480,
according to Pentagon officials. As for the number of civilians killed, the
British group Iraq Body Count estimates a figure between 16,000 and 18,000.
In a sign of mounting discontent, the military also concedes that about
5,500 servicemen have deserted, although Plummer believes the real number
is probably much higher.
This picture is somewhat bleaker than the one painted a year ago by Army
Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack, Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne -- also
known as ''America's Guard of Honour'' -- who brightly told reporters in
Baghdad that ''we're on a glide-path toward success.''
''We have turned the corner, and now we can accelerate down the
straightaway,'' he said in a Jan. 6, 2004 briefing. ''There's still a long
way to go before the finish line, but the final outcome is known.''
Not so fast, say anti-war activists like Plummer, who is helping to
organise a mass protest rally near the base in Fayetteville, North Carolina
on Mar. 19 to coincide with the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion