BANDIT RED |
February 19, 2008
Name: Teflon Don
Posting date: 2/19/08
Reporting from: Iraq
Milblog url: acutepolitics.blogspot.com
(Frequent Sandbox contributor Teflon Don* recently returned to Iraq, this time as a photojournalist accredited by Public Multimedia. Proceeds from the sale of high-quality prints of his photographs help support TD's independent journalism.)
I caught up with Bandit troop’s Red platoon on a dusty road within sight of PB Meade. They were on mission to search through the fields and canals surrounding the site of a huge cache, and had been diverted to check out a report from an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle team, of men digging in a field.
SGT Rose and Iron search for buried weapons.
The report sounded promising enough; 4-5 men digging near the road until a bongo truck (the distinctive middle-eastern version of the pickup truck) pulled up, at which point the men started unloading items into the hole. It sounds like IED-planting or cache-digging, but my experience with UAV intel has been poor enough to leave me a cynic. I made a gentleman’s bet with the gunner that the search would turn up nothing. The dismount team found farmers working in the fields. Score one for cynicism.
Red platoon soldiers set fire to a canal.
Red platoon’s plan for the day was to light the reeds lining the canals in their search areas on fire, search the fields nearby while the canals burned, and return to check the canals after the flames turned the concealing reeds to ash. The danger in burning canals is that loose ammunition tends to explode like popcorn, and there is always the chance of an artillery shell “cooking off” in the fire. It is best to stay far away as long as the fire burns.
A Red platoon soldier runs from an explosion.
The area where Red platoon was searching had come to Bandit troop’s attention a few days prior; White platoon had been patrolling nearby when they saw an explosion out in a field. They investigated, and found a trench cut in the earth with two men inside. They chased the men across the fields, catching one, at which point he confessed to being an al-Qaeda fighter conducting a sort of IED attack training.
He proceeded to turn over his companion and lead White platoon to a series of large caches scattered across a few hundred meters of farmland. Rockets, artillery shells, ammunition, RPGs, over 200 anti-personal land mines and more all came out of the earth.
1LT Walker stands over the IED training trench.
Searching for caches is as much art as science -- “needle in a haystack” is an oft-used phrase. Human intelligence, the informants that soldiers call “bird dogs”, is an important tool to use in the search. Shepherd boys and farmers are often just as important as AQI fighters and facilitators that can be convinced to give up information, because it is often their fields that have been turned into caches and fighting positions.
SSG Cruse comes up out of the reeds with a 155mm artillery shell.
In Arab Jabour, though, many of the locals fled or were forced out by AQI, and are only now returning. As security improves and refugees trickle back, they often return to homes once used by AQI. They call in the war supplies left in their houses -- as for what is buried in the fields, the search often turns into a treasure hunt like the one Red platoon was sent on today.
SSG Cruse feels out a homemade RPG launcher. This one had a round explode in it when the fires passed over.
Just a few days before I went out with Bandit troop, a local farmer had approached them with the names of two men whom he claimed had been involved in Al Qaeda in Iraq. Bandit troop went out to question the men -- cousins, as it turned out. Both men lead led Bandit to cache sites; both were detained after admitting they had helped dig the caches.
1LT Walker and his interpreter talk to a local shepherd.
After being detained, one of the men told Bandit troop, “You don’t want me; my brother is the really bad one." His mother came out waving a white flag to say goodbye to him, and substantiated what he had said about his brother. The next day, she returned -- with her second son. She sat him down in front of the Americans and told him to talk or he would get worse than what his brother had gotten.
The second brother, the “bad one”, would go on to help Bandit troop find yet another giant cache. This is just a simple story, but it substantiates a point about Iraqi culture that bears repeating: the men hold all the visible power, but winning over the women is extremely important to succeeding at counterinsurgency.
SSG Cruse calls EOD to report the day's finds.
*Here are some of Teflon Don's previous Sandbox posts, from his 2006-2007 Iraq deployment: