An M1A1 tank on maneuvers in Iraq.
Editor's note: This message was submitted anonymously by a Marine
war correspondent in Iraq. Here he highlights some reports directly
from the field.
Have some thoughts on this letter? Sound off in the discussion boards.
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
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.
(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
(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
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
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.
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.