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|Candlebox - Top-Secret U.S. Commando Role In Iraq Revealed|
Mitchel R. Confesor, May 9, 2003 (The Mindanao Times)
At worst, they are called "snake-eaters" and "knuckle-draggers," sneered at by the conventional military as mavericks and cowboys who refuse to obey rules and who grow their hair longer than the standard cut. But as in Grenada, Panama, and the first war in Iraq, they have proven themselves a cut above the rest in both Afghanistan and the second Iraq war. Hundreds of 12-member United States special operations forces teams deployed from Baghdad to Basra, from Kirkuk to Karbala, and from al-Najaf to al-Nasiriyah have been critical to the success of Gulf War II. U.S. Army Special Forces units and Navy SEAL outfits were able to pass through southern Iraq from the Persian Gulf and infiltrate western Iraq from the Jordanian and Syrian borders. Beefed up by top-secret U.S. Army Intelligence Support Activity operatives, Nightstalker pilots, and CIA paramilitary agents, plus their British, Australian, and Polish allies, these American commandos hunted for Scud missiles and picked up bombing targets through precise laser designators and global satellite systems that guided Air Force bombers. Moreover, they recruited Iraqi opposition leaders to help locate Baath Party officials.
The operations of covert commando soldiers in Iraq have never been uncovered before, until James Dao wrote an article Monday last week for The New York Times, called "War plan drew U.S. commandos from shadows." Dao said Navy SEALs were able to seize fuel terminals and oil pumping stations on the southern coast, while Air Force troops flew combat missions in AC-130 Spectre gunships and established desert airstrips to begin the flow of soldiers and supplies deep into the heart of the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Quoting the commander of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Aviation Detachment for southern Iraq, the article revealed that the deployment of about 9,000 fighters in Gulf War II "was the largest and most comprehensive integration of Special Operations and conventional forces" - mostly the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Division - that Col. Randy O’Boyle has ever seen. "It was a far cry from the Persian Gulf War of 1991, where Special Operations forces were kept largely on the sidelines," Dao wrote. "But it would not be a replay of Afghanistan, where Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs led the fighting."
In the recent war in Iraq, he said, "it would mainly be the warplanes, tanks, and infantrymen of the conventional military that brought down Saddam Hussein’s government." He added: "Not everyone was pleased with that development. After their star turn in Afghanistan, many commandos were disappointed to play a supporting role in Iraq, (as) they complained about restrictive rules, of being kept on short leashes by cautious commanders. They felt like ‘lions led by dogs,’ as one commando put it." Mavericks and cowboys, all right.
"But to Special Operations commanders, who wanted to prove that their small units could play a significant role in a large-scale conventional campaign, the war (in Iraq) was an experiment that largely succeeded," Dao said. "To them, Special Operations are the major growth industry of the American military, and their goal is to win a larger slice of the Pentagon budget." Some SOF commanders even said the Iraq war had proven that they were ready to come out of the shadows and fight alongside conventional forces if only out of survival in the U.S. Defense establishment.
With the trademark of working in teams of mostly a dozen men who are stealthy and agile (Donald Rumsfeld’s latest favorite buzzword), SOF secret warriors move quickly into and out of any trouble. Dao said they get into firefights like those in Iraq "almost always outnumbered." One scene was when a Green Beret team encountered hundreds of Iraqi Republican Guard soldiers comprising a battalion. The Army Special Forces unit or A-team thought they were traversing a safe route behind them after the 3rd ID’s Abrams tanks had already zoomed from Karbala to Baghdad.
Yet as these troopers in Humvee vehicles turned into one corner in the town of Musayyib, a number of Iraqi soldiers came out of doorways and fired their Russian Kalashnikov rifles and RPG launchers. The scene was almost reminiscent of the crowded Somali streets in the book-inspired movie Black Hawk Down, where 18 Army Rangers and Delta Force operators were killed in the bloody Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.
Each of the Green Berets fired his gun as they sped away, Dao said, adding that even the soldier-drivers in the Humvees had to turn the wheel in one hand while shoot their guns with the other. A couple of A-10 Warthogs, also called Tankbusters, were called for air support but they couldn’t drop their bombs because the neighborhood was so full of civilians - just like in the streets of Somalia almost 10 years earlier. "Bullets pinged all around the Humvees as Iraqi soldiers on balconies shot toward the advancing (U.S.) convoy," Dao wrote.
"At one point, a team member looked up to see a grenade explode under the truck in front of him, tipping it momentarily onto two wheels," Dao added. "Yet somehow, the convoy reached the edge of town without a single casualty. The soldiers turned to see three pickup trucks filled with Iraqi paramilitaries chasing them. But the A-10s destroyed the trucks with their 30-millimeter guns. It was the fiercest firefight most of the men had experienced."
The gunfire lasted for about one-and-a-half hour. Dao said the team leader "was amazed at how cool the soldiers" had been throughout their ordeal. And just like in Mogadishu, most of them were only in their late 20s and early 30s. Personally, they just call themselves as the quiet professionals, as they prefer "to keep their missions wrapped in an aura of mystery," Dao wrote, quoting a team sergeant who claimed that even his wife doesn’t know what he does.
However, not everything was like Black Hawk Down, as some did what Andy McNab and the rest of his eight-man team of British Special Air Service Regiment soldiers had done in Gulf War I, as detailed in Bravo Two Zero, another nonfiction book which later inspired another movie. Dao revealed that a Special Forces A-team even spent eight days watching a road near Karbala while staying in Iraqi ditches and holes - living only on food and water meant to last for a mere five days.
"They were not discovered, did not fire a shot, and provided valuable intelligence to the Third Infantry Division, which was racing north toward Baghdad," he disclosed. "One Navy SEAL, describing sitting in a ‘hide hole’ for nearly three days, said he was unable to move, or even sleep, almost the entire time. By the end, he had memorized the location of every rock and plant in sight." (In the case of some men in McNab’s SAS team in the first war in Iraq, they survived the desert with only two packets of biscuits, without drinking the sand’s toxic waters.)
These self-proclaimed "action guys" wanted "the adrenaline rush of war, the chance to savor the acrid taste of fear," Dao said. But as English novelist John LeCarré described the life of a spy wherein hours of boredom are "interspersed with bloody bouts of terror," America’s secret soldiers "accept the tedium with the same even demeanor with which they typically approach battle...all [as] part of the job," Dao wrote.
Commodore Robert Harward, the commander of the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Task Group in Iraq, laid it better. "There is more willingness to introduce Special Operations forces to the battlefield," Harward said. "We don’t operate purely in the black world anymore."
The mavericks and snake-eaters have finally come out of their shell.