By John Rutherford, NBC News Producer, Washington
The identity of the enemy in Iraq keeps shifting like the desert sands. "As the Sunni insurgents quit fighting us, the problems we have with criminality and other militia, many of them Shia, become relatively more important," a U.S. embassy official told the Washington Post. As for al-Qaeda in Iraq, President Bush stresses its continued danger, despite recent U.S. successes. "Al-Qaeda is not going to go away anytime soon," the president said in his latest news conference.
To the soldiers in Iraq, it's hard to tell who they're fighting.
"Where I was at [in Baghdad], we usually got mortars, rockets, all that stuff around there, but no one really knows who's shooting them," Pfc. Abelino Gomez, 21, of San Diego said today following a Purple Heart ceremony at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Gomez is recovering from shrapnel wounds in his stomach.
Spc. Donald Gray III, 23, of Boston, wounded by a roadside bomb northeast of Baghdad, said American forces simply fire back at whoever's firing at them.
"I mean, they don't dress any different than the regular people over there," Gray said. "It's really hard to tell."
Not that it makes much difference who's doing the firing.
"It really doesn't," 1st Lt. Juan Guerrero, 36, of Miami said. "I mean, the enemy of the United States is the enemy of the United States, so it doesn't matter where they come from, or who they are."
Despite this, the wounded soldiers felt progress is being made in Iraq.
"If we could just get over that fast food mentality, of everything has to be done right now, and we have patience, it will get done," Sgt. Shaun Chandler, 30, of Paradise, Pa., said. Both Chandler and Guerrero were wounded by roadside bombs in Baghdad.
In Afghanistan, U.S. forces face the same problem identifying the enemy.
"You can't tell them from the regular villagers," Spc. Robert Remmel, 22, of Waukesha, Wis., said. "So you kind of have to land on top of them."
Remmel was shot in the side during an enemy attack in northern Afghanistan. He, too, is optimistic about the war in which he fought.
"In my mind, Afghanistan is a winnable war," Remmel said. "It is very much so a winnable war, and I do believe we're making progress there."
Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He posts a weekly tribute to service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.