Memo To: Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: An Eye-witness Account
What really happened in Samarra Monday, when US troops engaged in the biggest fire-fight since the war formally ended in April? The Pentagon account is that as many as 54 insurgents in the central town were killed after they ambushed a convoy. Press reports since then from reporters at the site say the locals disagree, that while there was an ambush, only a small number of Iraqis were killed and most of those were civilians. My memo today is from an American soldier who was in the firefight, a combat leader who wrote about the experience soon after it ended and e-mailed his account to Col. David Hackworth, a retired Vietnam war hero who is now a columnist and critic of the Pentagon. The internet sure speeds up the process of getting news from the field. Hackworth posted it at his website, which is devoted to commentary on the Pentagon and the war. Here is the text of the soldier's letter, which sheds some light on what happened at Samarra, but is not conclusive. I can't vouch for its authenticity, but it does sound genuine and is not markedly inconsistent with other press accounts. In any event, it is certain Iraqis will buy this kind of report rather than the Pentagon's. Such is the nature of this conflict.
A Combat Leader Gives The Inside Skinny Of The Biggest Battle Since The War Ended
The convoy which was attacked while driving through Samara was not a supply convoy as reported, but was carrying large amounts of new Iraqi currency to stock local Iraqi banks and US greenbacks used to pay for goods and services the US forces need to accomplish their missions in Iraq. This convoy was heavily guarded by Abrams Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. It was akin to a huge Brinks Truck delivery.
The reports of 54 enemy killed will sound great on the home front, but the greater story is much more disturbing and needs to be told to the American Public.
When we received the first incoming rounds, all I could think of was how the hell did the Iraqis (most of these attackers being criminals, not insurgents) find out about this shipment? This was not broadcast on the local news, but Iraqi police knew about it. Bing, Bing Bing, You do the math.
Of greater importance in the scale of the attack and the coordination of the two operations. Iraqi Rebel Guerilla Units elements still retain the ability to conduct synchronized operations despite the massive overwhelming firepower "Iron Hammer" offensive this month.
Hack, most of the casualties were civilians, not insurgents or criminals as being reported. During the ambushes the tanks, brads and armored HUMVEES hosed down houses, buildings, and cars while using reflexive fire against the attackers. One of the precepts of "Iron Hammer" is to use an Iron Fist when dealing with the insurgents. As the division spokesman is telling the press, we are responding with overwhelming firepower and are taking the fight to the enemy. The response to these well coordinated ambushes was as a one would expect. The convoy continued to move, shooting at ANY target that appeared to be a threat. RPG fire from a house, the tank destroys the house with main gun fire and hoses the area down with 7.62 and 50cal MG fire. Rifle fire from an alley, the brads fire up the alley and fire up the surrounding buildings with 7.62mm and 25mm HE rounds. This was actually a rolling firefight through the entire town.
The ROE under "Iron Fist" is such that the US soldiers are to consider buildings, homes, cars to be hostile if enemy fire is received from them (regardless of who else is inside. It seems too many of us this is more an act of desperation, rather than a well thought out tactic. We really don't know if we kill anyone, because we don't stick around to find out. Since we armored troops and we are not trained to use counter-insurgency tactics; the logic is to respond to attacks using our superior firepower to kill the rebel insurgents. This is done in many cases knowing that there are people inside these buildings or cars who may not be connected to the insurgents.
The belief in superior firepower as a counter-insurgency tactic is then extended down to the average Iraqi, with the hope that the Iraqis will not support the guerillas and turn them in to coalition forces, knowing we will blow the hell out of their homes or towns if they don't. Of course in too many cases, if the insurgents bait us and goad us into leveling buildings and homes, the people inside will then hate us (even if they did not before) and we have created more recruits for the guerillas.
The Commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Colonel Frederick Rudesheim, said after this battle that "We are going to continue to take the fight to this enemy. This is the most significant contact we have had to date in the city of Samarra. We are going to have to respond accordingly."
This is a great attitude for a combat commander to have when fighting an armored force on force, but Colonel Rudesheim is not trained in Counter-Insurgency and my soldiers are taking the heat. We drive around in convoys, blast the hell out of the area, break down doors and search buildings; but the guerillas continue to attacks us. It does not take a George Patton to see we are using the wrong tactics against these people. We cannot realistically expect that Stability and Support Operations will defeat this insurgency.
As one would expect from using our overwhelming firepower, much of Samarra is fairly well shot up. The tanks and brads rolled over parked cars and fired up buildings where we believed the enemy was. This must be expected considering the field of vision is limited in an armored vehicle and while the crews are protected, they also will use recon by fire to suppress the enemy. Not all the people in this town were hostile, but we did see many people firing from rooftops or alleys that looked like average civilians, not the Feddayeen reported in the press. I even saw Iraqi people throwing stones at us, I told my soldiers to hold their fire unless they could indentfy a real weapon, but I still can't understand why somebody would throw a stone at a tank, in the middle of a firefight.
Since we did not stick around to find out, I am very concerned in the coming days we will find we killed many civilians as well as Iraqi irregular fighters. I would feel great if all the people we killed were all enemy guerrillas, but I can't say that. We are probably turning many Iraqi against us and I am afraid instead of climbing out of the hole, we are digging ourselves in deeper.
A COMBAT LEADER