Behind The Scenes In Mosul


I just got through reading an excellent post by Michael Yon who is in Iraq at the moment with the 1-24th Infantry. It is quite a long post, took me several days to read it after I printed it out and carried it with me in our patrol car. It is a very important piece if you want to get behind the scenes in Iraq and read about what goes on that the MSM doesn’t report on.

I will highlight a few things in the post:

Accounting for people who die in armed conflicts has always been difficult; but in this instance, there is little room for errors in either direction. Not that this prevents people from all sides from accusing others of understating or exaggerating casualties. But there are several reasons why we can get an accurate fix on the number of people who are killed in this insurgency. Open media access is primary.

The United States is the only country in the world that allows journalists this level of access to the battlefield, a practice that renders any kind of wide-scale cover-up tantamount to impossible.

Reporters who can’t get behind the scenes at Disneyland without an entourage of Marketing and Communication handlers trailing their every move can have unfettered access to the battlefield here in Iraq. The few journalists who are here have an astonishing array of options for how they might cover combat operations. A reporter for a major magazine might “embed” with insurgents, and then with US forces, and then back again with insurgents, and so on, until they have enough points of view to add dimension to their perspective.

A journalist not wishing to embed with US forces is free to apply for an Iraqi visa, fly to Baghdad, and hire a car and an interpreter who can drive them around town. They can knock on doors and talk directly with people; visit hospitals, talk with doctors; stop by the side of the road and talk with shepherds; or even hang out in a village and help make the goat cheese. Iraqi people are generally polite and usually more than willing to offer opinions about what’s happening in their neighborhood.

Piqued your interest yet? I thought so. I never really thought about it but the type of coverup the schizoleft screams about would be impossible with the type of access he writes about.

If media access is the first reason for confidence in casualty reports, communication capacity is a close second. Iraq is no black hole. Contrary to most war zones, Iraq is more like a quasar, radiating information at an unprecedented rate. Most city-dwelling Iraqis have Internet access, and maintain chat-partners and websites. Wireless Internet is widely available and cell phones are both cheap and plentiful. My Iraqi cell number works fine. I did radio and newspaper interviews on it yesterday. Any resourceful schoolkid in Mosul could find someone’s telephone number on the Internet, grab his dad’s phone and call Germany, Japan or San Diego, just as easily as calling across town.

Another great point. We even have many Iraqi bloggers in the blogosphere.

He then goes on to detail a month in Iraq:

This new plan for peace, like so many war plans, has multiple fronts. So while the main mission is training Iraqi police and soldiers, there are two other fronts: logistics and combat operations. When it comes to logistics, day after day, the Coalition faces the kinds of challenges that in a stable country would be handled by civilians through municipal authorities and agencies. The Army dedicates a significant amount of manpower, time and material resources to work through challenges of food distribution, electrical generation and similar quality-of-life issues.

Critics who claim that the army has no expertise in these areas have obviously never been anywhere near an army base. There is no more experienced organization for handling issues of supplies and logistics, engineering and operations, than the US military. In Mosul, these city-building projects would be business as usual for the army, if not for the enemy burning tankers in the streets and setting off bombs in downtown markets. And so, the unit I am with, the Deuce-Four, still engages on the third front in the peace plan: combat operations.

This seeming contradiction is a key to success on the two other fronts. Even the ways in which combat operations are planned and executed has evolved in the first half of this year. Instead of leveling the enemy with outright combat like they did in November and December when they were openly fighting in the streets, Deuce-Four uses every intelligence apparatus available to aid in capturing the enemy, because the enemy, once captured, usually sells out the cell members who’ve squeezed themselves into cracks in the back alleys of Mosul. The change in operations is also because the enemy no longer presents the targets that they did in November and December when they massed and tried to fight Deuce-Four head to head.

Capturing the enemy creates a cascading effect through the insurgency. A dead enemy is just dead. Game over. But every singing captive leads to another and another and another, and Deuce-Four can hardly keep pace with the flow of information. As sobering as the casualty numbers are for May, the number of insurgents captured and in custody in that same month?133?are a strong indicator of the success that is mounting. The success comes with a high price: it’s always more dangerous to capture an enemy than to kill him.

Despite the high-tech flourish, most of the genuine intelligence actually comes from detainees who cough up their cellmates like cats choking on hairballs. Another source of reliable intelligence is the local population, who are ever more confident in the effectiveness and staying power of the new government, and increasingly angry with the depravity of the terrorists.

Today, some locals found a very large and well-made shaped-charge (a special type of bomb) buried in a road that could have caused significant damage. The locals didn’t just report it; they actually dug it up and removed it from the road! When our guys came by, a kid waved and pointed to the bomb. They may have saved American lives. They definitely sent a powerful message to insurgents who have infested their community.

That is a great story. These Iraqi’s actually dug the bomb up, risking their own lives, instead of just calling the calvary to come help them. What gutsy and great people.

Deuce-Four has grabbed terrorists from the local Iraqi hospital on various occassions?one time the soldiers took the insurgent bed-and-all in the back of the Stryker. Actually, they get far better medical care in US custody. One terrorist’s gunshot wounds, compliments of Deuce-Four, were covered in hundreds of flies when the soldiers pulled him from the Iraqi hospital, cleaned his wounds and kept him. He is now providing valuable intelligence on the location of other terrorists responsible for planting IEDs. We know the enemy wants to bomb the inside of the 4-West police station with some kind of IED, or kill US Soldiers when they visit the station. There is an especially high price on the head of the police chief because he is damaging the insurgency.

Another terrorist getting American medical care but the cost of that care obviously pays dividends since he singing like a bird.

Day 17
Three Algerian homicidists arrive in Mosul. Two of them had flown from Tunis, Tunisia to Damascus, Syria. They kept the airplane ticket stubs, then made their way via the Jihadist equivalent of the underground railroad: walking through the Syrian countryside, hitching rides, taking buses, and staying at a series of safe houses which they are conscientious enough to document. They keep a diary. After about 30 days of adventure traveling, the three reach a safe house in Mosul. Meanwhile, perhaps in a large-scale display of collective guilt, the Syrian government protests loudly and too much at what they claim are false accusations from the US government that terrorists are using Syria as a conduit to Iraq.

Many things are well-known here in Iraq but seldom, if ever, mentioned in the news. For example, Jihadist bombers are notorious for engaging in debauchery on a stag party scale the eve of their “holy mission.” The modus operandi for their crime against humanity is to get drugged up and thoroughly drunk the night before, lay up with a prostitute and then start the countdown on their souls by turning themselves into bomb delivery devices which explode while they are still high on drugs.


Day 20
It was just after midnight when the man who had said, “For me to give the locations of these two men would be treason”?led Deuce-Four to the house?”However, if death comes to greet you at your door, introduce him to your brother,” where, SMASH, the soldiers rushed in. At first the Algerians were silent, their eyes noticeably bloodshot. They appeared sedated, reflexes on a time delay, as if they had just used opium. The three “martyrs” had been traveling for about thirty days before sneaking into Mosul. Since their arrival 48 hours earlier, apparently they had been hanging around, doing drugs, killing time, you know, just waiting to explode.

At first, the soldiers did not realize they had stumbled onto the last stop of the underground railroad to hell. Deuce-Four thought they were just hitting the home of a common terror cell leader. The soldiers quickly cleared all the rooms, floors, and hiding places. Some insurgents have boobytrapped their homes with explosives, so soldiers also search for bombs, while captives are immediately separated to prevent them from talking amongst themselves, or making eye contact or other signals to each other.

The owner of the house was a known mortar cell leader. The best thing about insurgent cell leaders is their meticulous record-keeping. No slaves to posterity, rather, their detailed notes of terrorist activities and videotapes of their operations, serve as proof for payment. Many insurgents simply work for hire. The man’s diary contained entries dated all the way back to the fall of Baghdad?including their successful attacks against Iraqis and Americans, and also those that failed, carefully noting the reasons for the failures. Comparing the entries with actual SIGACTs would later verify the accuracy of this record, and seal the fate of Mosul’s answer to Capone’s bookkeeper.

No one had the time that night to scour the diary in Arabic, but had they read the entry for May 17th they would never have lowered their guns. For there it was, plain as the ink on the page:

May 17th: Praise Allah, 3 Algerians have come to my house today. 2 are willing to do whatever it takes and be martyrs. 1 is in search of his brother.

The four men had been taken into separate rooms. My neighbors, John Welch and Erik Ramirez, each took Algerians into rooms, while LTC Kurilla had the third. Two other soldiers stayed with the Iraqi cell leader. LTC Kurilla had one Algerian jacked up against a wall and began questioning him?the man was strangely and completely sedate, clearly under the influence of drugs. When he began talking, both interpreters noticed his foreign accent immediately and they started shouting to the Americans, “These men are foreigners!”

As if hit with buckets of ice water, all four men snapped to life and began struggling against the soldiers.

I’ll let you find out what happens after that by reading his post.

Day 22
My neighbors from the Recon platoon head into Mosul searching for the enemy. I stay behind, going to the TOC to see what is happening downtown. I follow the icons for the Recon platoon moving across the big screen, denoting their real-time locations on the streets of Mosul. The danger American soldiers face on these raids is exacerbated by their great reluctance to use force when there are civilians around, compounded by the fact that there are children in nearly every home, including the homes of the insurgents. The average American soldier will do just about anything to avoid knowingly hurting a child, and will seldom even use flash-bangs (stun grenades) because of possible effects on children in the closed rooms.

Hot information comes in that a high value target is at a specific house nearby. There is radio chatter as the Battle Captain in the TOC communicates with the Recon platoon on a quick plan to hit the house and the one next to it. Within minutes, the Recon soldiers roll up to the homes, drop ramps, and burst into the bottom floor. They rush in and begin securing the rooms on the bottom floor, where they detain three men, while other Recon soldiers flow up the stairs.

Benjamin Morton is part of Recon’s raiding patrol. He lives directly across from me on base. Everyone calls him “Rat” because he saves everything. Rat moves upstairs, training his rifle above him. Rat’s the #1 man, in the most dangerous position. Two enemy men are hiding on the balcony, and one has an automatic weapon with a large drum of ammunition. As Rat comes round the corner, the insurgent sticks the weapon around the balcony corner and fires a long burst of about twenty rounds. Four bullets strike Ben Morton. His buddies come behind him and throw a flash-bang into the room, and return fire, catching a bed ablaze with tracers. They pull Rat out and call for medics. Despite everyone’s valiant efforts, Benjamin Morton does not survive his wounds.

Had they thrown grenades first, three women and four children would have died alongside the four men who were captured or killed that night. The men were elements of a car bomb cell.

And that my friends is how Americans fight, not the schizoleft version where we carpet bomb and kill anything that moves, but actually risk their lives to a greater degree to prevent civilian deaths.

The next day, we are rolling in the streets of Mosul when I hear radio chatter on the net that our brother unit, 3/21 across the Tigris, just found two men held as hostages in a dungeon-like basement. As the truth unfolded over the next few days, we learn that their captors were trying to blackmail one of the men into carrying a bomb into a police station, possibly to kill us.

I’ll end it here since I could re-post his blog it’s so good. Please check it out.

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