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Lessons Learned From USMC Warriors in Iraq
Lessons Learned From USMC Warriors in Iraq

 

Operation Iraqi Freedom


An M1A1 tank on maneuvers in Iraq.

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Editor's note: This message was submitted anonymously by a Marine war correspondent in Iraq. Here he highlights some reports directly from the field.

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Day 25 - 28 (D+24 to +27). Back on the net again. Have been on the road for a few days. Stopped in and saw some old friends up north with Task Force Tarawa near an-Numaniyah. Morale is high. This is my first attempt as a war correspondent so be patient with me. Most of these comments came from a Colonel and a 1stSgt, but they had collected many of their respective comments from various other sources. These were being passed on to myself and several other officers as lessons learned with the intent that they would be passed along to others entering the fight. You will notice the difference in the level of detail as it changes from the Colonel to the 1stSgt. Most of these are just bullets because I was writing as fast as I could, I hope it gives you a flavor of what your military is facing and the nature of caombat. Col Johnson, G-3 Task Force Tarawa comments were based on observations from combat in and around An-Nasiriyah, and a three hour interview with a captured XO (Executive Officer) of the Iraqi 23d Bde (Brigade) 11th ID (Infantry Division), who provided insight on how his unit fought us. Colonel comments, then the 1st Sgts after that they are in no particular order:

Marine Colonel with TF Tarawa Comments:

Maximum Iraqi use of dummy positions. Tarawa estimates there are in excess of 50 T-55 hulks in and around An Nasiriyah placed prior to our arrival. Iraqis placed immobile T-55s in hospitals, buildings, schools, etc to create pillboxes. Lots of derelict and destroyed D-30s (Iraqi artillery pieces) as well. He described the carnage where they had come across a D-30 battery that had been destroyed from repeated attacks by 3rd MAW (Marine Aircraft Wing) CAS (Close Air Support) - equipment, uniforms and body parts strewn over a wide area.

Maximum Iraqi use of hospitals, schools... and associated structures the Iraqis knew would challenge our targeting. Found mortars in building court yards, staked in, with ammo (ammunition) pre-staged. Found a sand table in a school yard with all the friendly positions marked.

IZ (Iraq Zone) Commander and XO was shocked at the aggressiveness of Marine small unit leaders. He said his fighters were very confident initially after the first bridge battle, but became dispirited when the Marines kept coming at them (my comment: It appears the attitude established long ago at Belleau Wood is alive and well in the Marines of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force).

No one fought in uniform. Found lots of RG (Republican Guard) uniforms around the town.

Ba'ath Party was one of the primary agencies for enforcing Saddam's will on the people. Talked about the Kuwait "Bedoons" (apparently the Arabic word for homeless). These were Kuwaiti collaborators who returned to Iraq with the Iraqis in 1991... a bad crowd, thugs and were being used to keep local population under regime control. The Saddam Fedayeen were usually clean shaven, often tattooed, and had lots of money. Lots of evidence that command and control went all the way back to Baghdad. Found torture chambers in Ba'ath Party facilities... people came looking for missing relatives after we took over the Ba'ath Party headquarters in an-Nasiriyah.

Best Intel (intelligence) was from HETs and EPW (Enemy Prisoners of War) debriefs. This was often turned around on the spot and used by friendly units. Note: HET refers to HUMINT (Human Intelligence) Exploitation Team and describes a Marine Tactical Interrogation Team, doctrinally a 6-man unit.

Marine Snipers were extremely useful. IZ XO talked about the demoralizing psychological effect our snipers had on his troops.

M-1 (M1A1 Tank) was also a very effective vehicle/asset. The Iraqis were terrified of it. Psychological vehicles were placed at selected points at night to broadcast tank noise to keep the bad guys awake. One tank had seven dents in it from where RPGs had hit it. Three dents had scorch marks where they had detonated and still had been deflected. It became the unkillable beast and caused them nightmares.

The Iraqis frequently used roadblocks to halt our movement (convoys, patrols, etc) ... and sometimes spring ambushes on the halted vehicles. That being said the Iraqis were not very effective at night. Several times at night they tried to spring ambushes and didn't position themselves correctly and ended up taking each other out or suppressing each others fire long enough for us to engage them. The Iraqis however were very effective at sneaking between friendly units in an attempt to cause blue on blue (friendly on friendly) casualties.

Iraqis were very conscientious about burying dead- even friendly dead. Sometimes Task Force Tarawa intentionally left dead in the street to send a message (sometimes snipers engaged a target and then wouldn't let anyone recover it). Strong Arab feelings about burial of dead.

Suppression worked very well. VT (Variable Timed fuse - explodes when it gets a set distance from the ground) worked well, particularly well when moving up a hostile road... VT also limited collateral damage.

The AC-130 (a flying gunship with miniguns, 105mm howitzer and bombs) and Predator were highly lethal with limited collateral damage.

CDE (Collateral Damage Evaluation) . "I've got a target, but it's next to a mosque." Hard decisions had to be made... lots of thought went in to using the right munitions. TF Tarawa went back and looked at collateral damage after the fight. Very limited. JDAMs were effective. Artillery caused significant collateral damage unless VT was used. DPICM (Dual Purpose Improve Conventional Munitions - artillery shells with smaller bomblets inside) was very effective. Even in the railroad yard fight, limited collateral damage. Estimate 250 civilian casualties based on visits to local morgue and follow ups.

Lots of RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenades rounds... very effective against Amtraks. Worst incident was when an RPG detonated mortar rounds in an Amtrack full of Marines. Estimates in excess of 2500 RPGs captured. Found Milan missile systems (French made missiles and not the only report of these missiles being found). Ammo was cached everywhere. Possibly in excess of 200 tons found.

The Iraqis used overhead cover effectively. Recommended slant view VR to look under palm trees, etc. Significant use of bunkers. Sometimes dug under the foundations of homes.

Use of Huey VR (visual reconnaissance) was very effective. Iraqi AAA (Anti-Air Artillery) was of limited effectiveness. ZSU-23-2s and ZSU-23-4s (Russian made twin and quad AAA weapons) were not good shooters.

City was divided in to colored zones to aid in targeting and coordination. For CAS in a built up area... the city was divided up in to colored and numbered sections for coordination.

The population is on our side... for now. Ensure you can deliver on promises. The people have lots of food, but they need clean water. Said that water will be a huge problem in Baghdad... particularly if the power grid doesn't come back up soon.

There is lots of vengeance and retribution going on. Some community leaders and tribal leaders are attempting to use Americans to settle old scores against rivals, etc.

Tactical PSYOP were huge. Sometimes just a simple "get off the street" with a loud speaker. Better to use Free Iraqi interpreters than Kuwaitis. The act of ripping down Saddam posters and statues was effective. Don't touch anything that memorializes the Iran/ Iraq war. Don't touch the Iraqi flag, because of the religious symbols on it which say Allah Akhbar - "God is Great" .

Over 100 friendly casualties from the big fight at the bridge and in the railyard... too much use of "URGENT" on the medevac requests. Casualty tracking procedures were a nightmare (read challenge)... the nature of fighting was confusing and dispersed, and often the only individuals who knew who was being placed on a helicopter were the actual Marines handling the wounded Marine in question. Many times friendly casualties could not be identified in the heat of battle, and sometimes for a good deal of time afterwards. We preferred to fight at night so that was a compounding factor. A "shit load" (it's a quote) of friendly heat casualties. Huey was CASEVAC bird of choice because you could get it in everywhere.

Huge amounts of UXOS (UneXploded Ordnance). Critical need for EOD teams to clear areas.

Gave one example of a booby-trapped SA-7 that blew up and wounded a Marine in the face.

SIGINT (signal intelligence) was very effective on cell phones.

Marine 1stSgt with 3rd LAR Comments:

Morale is high; the Marines have gotten their battle focus straight. Marines did not expect the well-trained para-military troops they have been facing (most were SRG or RG forces out of uniform cross trained in terror tactics), but quickly adjusted and from that point on were relentless. Weapons systems are performing well, especially the 25mm DU and 7.62. Gas plugs on the 7.62mm MG have been one of the biggest maintenance issues. Units have now taken the spare barrel gas plug; put it in a 7.62 ammo can with enough JP-8 to cover the plug. This self cleans the gas plug as the mission continues. The gunner can now change gas plugs in a matter of seconds and then drops the dirty one in the JP-8. This has worked very well for the units. Everyone I talked to said to bring extra gas plugs!

There has been a few ammunition problems, mainly wrong ammunition being delivered to units. Division was able to cross level ammunition within the division but it still took time. Additionally, some Division Units were short on initial draw of UBL (unit basic load).

The unit has had several combat losses. Enemy has developed the TTP of putting an AA Gun in the back of a pickup and shooting into the rear of a tank (Engine compartment) The C Company lost one tank initially to this tactic and then a second after the tank went into a ditch. NOTE: This happened during a sand/dust storm that reduced visibility to less the 5 meters at times. On the good news front, the tank that got hit second also took RPG rounds and a Mortar round to the blowout panels. Good news because the ammunition cooked off with the driver trapped in the engine compartment and the blast doors worked as advertised. Driver was later extricated with no injuries.

Call for Fire has become the norm. A highly motivated FO (Forward Observer) has motivated all troops to utilize his systems and Call for Fire is now a norm and Marines are getting really good at it. FO's take note!

Maintenance, Maintenance, Maintenance...unit has had very minor maintenance issues mainly due to good maintenance. Focus changed across the board from "it's on order...to let's get it down" They wished they had not settled for the "it's on order" before they deployed across the LD (Line of Departure). Civilian graphite is the key (Cooper or Liquid Wrench)...according to several tank, Amtrak, and LAV commanders. Weapons gum up bad with CLP. 15W/40 is the current lubricant of use. HQ take note.... get this going/fixed now....

Boresight daily.... units have been boresighting normally in the morning and doing an update at night. Some units actually do two BZOs a day but norm has been one.

Clean brass out of catchers and turret rings at every opportunity. Several turrets jammed during engagements due to brass.

Tank, Amtrak, and LAV crews have taken to using captured AK-47's as crew protection weapons on tanks and LAVs. Guys were literally shooting enemy with 9mm from turrets in the dust storm.

LAVs/Amtraks need a bustle rack or storage box. With the amount of ammunition units are carrying they don't have enough room on their vehicles. Some units have designed or had locally purchased storage boxes. Recommend units take specs to a local machine shop and have them built if their able to.

COMMO (communications equipment) for dismounts is a problem. Units do not have a means for Dismounts to communicate without taking a radio from the track and/or carrying a manpack. This slows operations and is a time consuming process that should not have to occur. A field phone, handheld radio or squad radios would be a great asset.

Remain Vigilant! Be Paranoid! Learn to wear heavy flak jackets in the turret. Chin defilade is now the norm.

29 StumpsTactics (Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at 29 Palms) most resembles the battlefield that we are currently facing.

On the enemy: Smart, Flexible, Utilizing all means at their disposal. They have moved ammo in civilian trucks, held weapons to their own people's heads, and pretended to be doctors' with asthmatic children. Pretend to surrender then open fire. Units recommend that you err on the side of precaution. Put all civilians down before they get close to you. SEARCH EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING. Divorce the personnel from their vehicle and be prepared for a car bomb.

Please pass this on to all tank/LAV companies and anyone else who you think could benefit from these lessons learned.


All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.


 



 



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