Tuesday, January 20, 2004

SAS Wipes Out Terrorist Cell in One Swoop, The Duce Hooks Up Special Forces with a BMW

20 January 2004

I love you! I told you about the stop loss after getting news that I would be staying here for sure. I felt so horrible about telling you I wouldn’t be coming home. It tears me to bits, it breaks my heart, but I’m going to make sure we stay as positive as possible through this. I won’t be able to come home on vacation because I am critical to our staff.
[1] I just feel so exhausted, and I know you do too. I just ask God for strength, and I know all will be OK. That is the most important thing to remember. I talk to you all the time though, especially when I see the stars at night or birds in pairs together. My heart really aches, I feel it in my chest, and it’s the fire of true love and longing. I am going to be so overjoyed to come home to you.
Things here in Iraq have been relatively calm despite a large bombing at the CPA at the same entrance I ran through after the grenade attack in October. 24 dead, 2 of them Americans. Last night, one of our tanks that was set up on the 6-lane highway to deter people from placing roadside bombs (IEDs) was hit by an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) from a car parked on an overpass. The bombers are having a harder time placing bombs, so now they are resorting to firing missiles or guns at our units directly. That is actually a good thing, because it means the terrorists are having a harder time hitting Iraqis and Americans. The RPG fired at the tank exploded and only scratched the tank. Nothing big.
Over the past few days, we’ve been working more with Task Force 141 (the British Special Air Service SAS) and U.S. Special Forces. The Special Forces guys are on our camp training the new ICDC recruits – not out going after the bad guys. They’re getting a little bored though, so now they are working with us in their spare time. Now, we are conducting more precision raids and getting better information about foreigners in our areas. We have spies that work for us as translators (I say “spy” because they go to mosques and observe the services and messages and gather information on target houses). They are just common people though. Now, we are getting support from real spies and informants who are providing some amazing information. I support this, because gaining more information means less false raids and wrongly accused people taken into custody or being killed.
“Here they are,” CPT Guerin (our intelligence officer) said as he handed a set of keys to our special operations operator, named “Dave.” Dave is an “operator,” or spook. The first thing you notice about him is that he doesn’t have a military appearance. He looks like a hiker, with longer hair than is normal, a skinny build, a relaxed expression and stony eyes under heavy brows. You wonder if those eyes are stony and weary of being here in Iraq, or of seeing death – or dealing it. He walks around with his hands in his pockets and seems like a civilian in a rag tag uniform. CPT Guerin handed him the set of keys.
“What do we have?” Dave asked.
“BMW 7-series, black,” CPT Guerin responded with a hint of satisfaction.
“Nice! Thank you,” Dave said with a surprised grin. “Where’s it parked?”
“Oh, out back,” CPT Guerin responded. I smiled to myself and thought about those James Bond movies where Q tosses the keys of some exotic car to James. Who would have thought our bulky armor unit would be working with the CIA, SAS, or Special Forces? Dave has another operator working with him. He’s a short guy that looks like a disco kid and wears a wavy, dyed hair do. It’s not like Hollywood – these guys are not Arnold Schwarzenegger. They don’t even fit the description of a soldier. That is probably a good thing, and they are smart enough to get the job done right. Now we’ve got a “smarter” team working in our zones, informants gathering information – and sure enough – people are being identified as planning attacks and links to terrorists in Yemen and Syria are being made. We also have technical support in monitoring telephone calls on satellite phones and taking satellite pictures of target houses where the terrorists are living. The pictures are so good, you could spot a dog in the back yard. A few months ago we had intel about an ambulance being modified into a bomb at a certain location. After a few hours, we had a satellite image of the house, spotted the ambulance in the backyard, and then began to put plans together to raid the house. The ambulance was captured.
The SAS, or Task Force 141, seem to be a bit darker than our Special Forces. I remember sitting in the dining room at the Al-Rasheed Hotel a few weeks ago when we went to the CPA. We were sitting eating, and I could hear all kinds of conversations around me. You find people from Special Forces, CIA, FBI, SAS, all kinds of people. There are also a lot of admin Army soldiers there living it up and flirting with all the young Iraqi, British, American, etc. women. All the nonsense away from the realities of the city. Anyways, one SAS team was sitting next to me.
“He’s wa’ up ewl’ nite play’n Ghost Recon, that one level,” the Brit said in a thick accent. He’s talking about a popular video game where you fight terrorists.
“Aye, room clearing just isn’t realistic,” said one of the other guys. He was talking about when you go into a house or building to secure it. They then went on to talk about an operation they were carrying out that night. It was kind of weird hearing SAS guys talk about playing a video game about war and catching terrorists when they’re doing the real thing every night. I looked across to another table and a big man, probably FBI or with some civilian security organization, was very conspicuously starring at an Iraqi woman’s ass only feet away. He had a big American flag on a badge on his chest, a redneck moustache, Harley Davidson baseball cap, stylish extreme style sunglasses, tattoos, big muscles. Next to him was a similar looking bonehead, also starring at Iraqi ass. The Middle Eastern woman who was sitting at the table pretended not to notice their behavior. I looked over at SPC Forrest, and he saw what I was seeing too and started to laugh.
“Thompson, I know, I know.” I smiled back and was thankful I wasn’t the only one who found Al-Rasheed living a joke. We then went outside to the pool and looked at the damage caused by an earlier rocket attack. A lieutenant colonel from The Citadel died in that attack.
Well, going back to the SAS, two nights ago, they conducted a raid on a house that was housing three men identified by intelligence as being responsible for killing Santos from our unit right after Christmas. The SAS went to the house at night very secretly. Our tanks were on standby just in case something happened, and the SAS won’t explain what they are doing. They don’t have to. The team went into the house and killed two men immediately. One man ran from the back of the house. He was tracked down and killed in the street and the SAS called our tanks and then disappeared. When our guys showed up, they found dead bodies, grenades, and one body in the road. The house was not searched by the SAS – it seems they went in and killed everyone. Aggressor Company (A Co.) got the Iraqi police to get the bodies, and then searched the house. Papers were found that indicated the men were from Egypt. Explosives and military equipment were found in the house. “I don’t know if it was them (the bombers who killed Santos), but if it was, they’re dead now,” an NCO from Apache Troop said in the TOC after hearing the news about the raid. Word is getting out that people are disappearing at night from their homes or being killed by invisible men.
Last night there was another raid. Dave was going to help – all dressed in an Iraqi army uniform and bullet-proof vest with gadgets on it. I was going to be supervisor during the operation so the less experienced guys could get some practice. Before the 0100 raid, I looked through our target packages (folders with information about the people we were going to catch, satellite pictures of their houses). Some were suspected of funding attacks on Americans and police. One was a known terrorist with ties to Yemen and a brother in Al-Qaeda. The intelligence on the 6 or so men was pretty complete. Listed below their names was their position within the terrorist cell, their schedules, meetings at mosques.
Going after bad guys like them is a good thing. Last night, six separate houses were raided at the same time. “Shots fired!” one patrol said on the radio with us.
‘Sir, shots fired at team,’ I said to Sergeant Major Walker. It was a shotgun blast. From one of the houses, a man ran from a house into another house. Another blast went off.
“We’ve got one male barricaded in a house.” A few minutes later, that male was captured after giving up. “Gunman captured! WIA, wounded with sucking chest wound,” the patrol reported. Medics began to work on the man.
“Fuck him, he’s shooting at troops,” some people were saying in the TOC. It later turned out he was a Christian man, the father of his children and a husband, who thought bandits were coming in his home, so he shot at the intruders. He didn’t know what he was starting a shootout with the soldiers. He was taken to the American field hospital and is OK. He’s got a bad wound – but he’s going to live. He was just defending his home. It turned out we raided the wrong house. The target house was actually next door. So, the team went next door and captured some men who were actual targets. One was a known terrorist.
During the raid, everyone stayed calm and we spoke very mechanically. “Target 1, clear. Target 2, clear. Moving to target 3.” Very methodical and clean. Our raids don’t get on the news, even though 3-32 AR has conducted so many raids and caught a lot of bombers and bad people.
Today I went to the interrogation of the terrorist. Sergeant Daniels did the first interrogation. He just said the f-word a lot and said some things in a country accent that the Iraqi interpreter couldn’t understand. The Sunni Iraqi man didn’t seem scared. Even at the end, the man teased SFC Daniels saying about his face, “You beautiful face.” The man laughed and SFC Daniels left. He wasn’t even worried.

The base that we were living on in east Baghdad was rarely the target of attack. Many other bases had been mortared and rocketed. I think we were spared because of the constant presence of helicopters above our camp. The buildings belonging to our battalion were within the landing pattern for the local aviation unit. The bumblebee drone of their rotors was an omnipresent sound. That was a blessing.
Around this time in January, a nighttime mission was being conducted. The mission was to capture insurgents. While our units were out in zone 23 creeping around in alleys and along walls, an Iraqi man spotted the dark shadows of our soldiers. He believed they were thieves in the night. He grabbed his shotgun and initiated a firefight with the soldiers. I remember the soldiers reporting that they were in contact. After several minutes of intense exchanges, the gunman was captured. It turned out he was only protecting his home. He was a Christian man, and he had a sucking chest wound. He was brought to the Army hospital and treated, but treated as if he was guilty, as if he was an insurgent. In Iraq, the innocent are treated guilty – because they are Iraqi, they are the reason we are here.
“So many nights I would sit on my tank during a raid and think, ‘This shit is wrong, it’s illegal,’” Sergeant Gonzales said one night while eating Ramen noodles.

[1] Sometimes vacation was given out as incentive to reenlist. If you reenlisted or showed intent to reenlist, you increased your chances of going home. I was not able to be too far from the TOC because I could be needed at any moment. Many times, the vacation system was simply corrupt and subject to arbitrary change.

See Thompson's multimedia website at http://www.american-interrupted.com


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