Monday, August 30, 2004

Najaf Close Calls

Close call standards in combat change, as this article by Alex Berenson confirms, mortar shells hitting fifty feet away don't matter as well as bullets that whiz overhead instead of hitting your armor EXCEPT for one item: Never, never underestimate your enemy. In the most brazen attack, a guerrilla jumped onto a U.S. tank in the cemetery two weeks ago and killed two soldiers before fleeing."
"You have to be careful about underestimating your enemy," said Lt. Col. Myles Miyamasu, commander of the battalion. "Their tenacity, though not equal to our own, probably surprised us a little."

"Besides the deaths and injuries, many more men have stories of close calls, mortar shells that failed to explode or bullets that smashed into body armor instead of skin and bone. On the front lines, soldiers no longer blink at mortars that explode 50 feet from their armored vehicles or rocket-propelled grenades trailing sparks by their heads, instead methodically trying to figure out the location of the guerrillas in order to destroy them."

"A close call would be getting hit in your Kevlar," the chest and back armor that every soldier wears, Siapco said. "A bullet whizzing by, that doesn't count. You don't have to worry about that."

U.S. forces advanced daily so that by Thursday the rebels had no ground left to give. Early that morning, U.S. tanks reached the gates of the shrine and fought in its shadow. On a bombed-out street illuminated only by the stars and the glow from the lights attached to the mosque's walls and minarets, the tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles turned their turrets left and right, searching for targets.

Guerrillas fired rocket-propelled grenades from buildings nearby, but even direct hits did not seriously damage the U.S. armor. The Bradleys returned fire, pouring bursts of 25-millimeter high-explosive shells, essentially miniature grenades, into the buildings. The shells glowed red, setting fires that burned orange in the night. With the shrine's golden dome as a backdrop, the street had a surreal beauty, and soldiers said they were astonished to be fighting so close to one of the holiest sites in Islam.

But the Mahdi Army did not stop fighting. Snipers took aim at Maj. Doug Ollivant, a U.S. commander directing the battle from about 100 yards away, and a hidden mortar position rained shells around Ollivant's armored Humvee. The mortar was so close to the Americans that soldiers could hear shells being fired 30 seconds before they landed, because they essentially were traveling straight up and down.

"It's going to kill you, you know," Ollivant said, as one soldier lighted a cigarette not long after a mortar crashed nearby.

By Friday afternoon, with a cease-fire in place, the scene in the Old City was very different. Men walked through the streets, surveying damage and walking past U.S. troops who would soon be pulled back.

"You never know if some of these guys were the guys fighting us," one soldier said to another, watching the men walk by.

"I guarantee you some were," the second responded.

But 1st Sgt. Justin Lehew of the Marines, whose men killed the fighters whose bodies the medics were gathering Friday, said his soldiers were not unhappy that the fight had ended without a climactic battle.

"They just want to go home," Lehew said. "Like everybody else."

Najaf: An uneasy calm, a terrible toll

No comments:

Post a Comment