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'Fragging' Rare in Iraq, Afghanistan
Associated Press | October 18, 2007RALEIGH, N.C. - American troops killed their own commanders so often during the Vietnam War that the crime earned its own name - "fragging."
But since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military has charged only one Soldier with killing his commanding officer, a dramatic turnabout that most experts attribute to the all-volunteer military.
And some argue the case of Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez shouldn't even be considered fragging, since his motive was unclear.
Fragging - derived from the hard-to-trace weapon of choice in such attacks, the fragmentation grenade - has varying definitions, from the killing of any superior to the murder of a Soldier's direct commander to avoid combat.
Martinez, 40, of Troy, N.Y., and a member of the state's Army National Guard, is scheduled to appear Thursday in a courtroom at Fort Bragg, where the Army's version of a grand jury is hearing evidence in his murder case.
He faces a possible death sentence if convicted of setting off several grenades and a mine in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces near Tikrit, Iraq.
The June 2005 blast, initially blamed on a mortar round, killed Martinez's company commander, Capt. Phillip Esposito, 30, of Suffern, N.Y., and 1st Lt. Louis Allen, 34, of Milford, Pa., the unit's operations officer.
At a hearing in Kuwait early in the case, a witness testified Martinez had said twice that he disliked Esposito and was going to "frag" him.
Between 1969 and 1971, the Army reported 600 fragging incidents that killed 82 Americans and injured 651. In 1971 alone, there were 1.8 fraggings for every 1,000 American Soldiers serving in Vietnam, not including gun and knife assaults.
"These people knew the war was pretty much lost, that they were going to be sacrificed," said Texas A&M University history professor and Vietnam veteran Terry Anderson. "They just wanted to get out of Vietnam."
After the 1968 Tet offensive, enlisted troops in Vietnam increasingly felt their lives were being placed at risk for a losing cause.
"Many of them were trying to go through the motions without getting themselves killed," said Duke University history professor Alex Roland. "If an officer or hard-charging sergeant was in his foxhole and a grenade rolled in, you probably would never know where it came from."
The only other member of the military charged with murdering a superior since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began is Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar of the 101st Airborne Division. Akbar was sentenced to death for a 2003 grenade-and-rifle attack at a base in Kuwait prior to his unit's move into in Iraq.
But while Akbar's victims included those of a higher rank, they were not his direct commanding officers. Prosecutors said he launched the attack because he was concerned about U.S. troops killing fellow Muslims in the Iraq war. Akbar's attorneys argued he was too mentally ill to have planned the attack.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Martinez case declined to comment Wednesday. Along with murder, Martinez is also charged with illegally giving government printers and copiers to an Iraqi, and illegally possessing a firearm, alcohol and explosives.
Allen's widow said last year her husband was working with Esposito to stop black-market sales of military equipment when they were attacked.
In Vietnam, fragging increased as drafted troops became more demoralized during the conflict's later years.
Both Roland and Anderson said today's all-volunteer military, compared with Soldiers being forced into duty in Vietnam, is the primary reason why fragging attacks are almost nonexistent in Iraq and Afghanistan. The conditions in Iraq are also much less conducive to the crime, Roland said.
"There's not as much isolated operation," Roland said. "One of the things about Vietnam was the extremes of small-unit activity, where a squad or platoon would go out on patrol and it was just them and the jungle. They were out of sight of other Americans.
"In Iraq, you never know when a helicopter might be going over or a newsman comes along," he said.
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