HAMMAM AL ALI, Iraq — The women in northern
Iraq call them ghost soldiers.
The members of 2nd Infantry Division's Company B, 5th Battalion, 20th
Infantry Regiment moved quickly and silently in their Stryker armored personnel
carriers on a moonlit Tuesday night.
Their mission: to raid a house where a suspected terrorist was to be hiding.
As the Strykers left their base at Aggie Company Control Point at 1:30 a.m.,
the vehicles cruised swiftly through the darkness toward the drop-off point.
Inside the vehicle, soldiers watched a monitor that showed their position and
those of other vehicles in the platoon.
Night-vision video of the world outside was visible on another monitor
connected to a roof-mounted camera. Two soldiers equipped with night-vision
goggles and M-4s peered into the darkness from rear hatches.
As the Strykers neared the objective, they went into "sneak" mode, cutting
back on the throttle so that the whir of the engines was barely audible.
At the drop-off point, ramps dropped and soldiers piled out to begin a
one-mile march across open fields toward a small house and barn on the
outskirts of town. The soldiers made hardly a sound as they walked, but barking
dogs greeted them as they approached, ruining any chance of surprise.
After a moment's hesitation to confirm the target, a team of soldiers stormed
the barn, while another team cleared the house, room by room. This time, the
bad guy got away.
In the barn, a half-eaten dinner was evidence of a hasty flight. But the bad
guy left behind a box of bomb-making ingredients to include electrical cord, a
tin can full of shrapnel and gunpowder, a disassembled radio and ammunition.
In the yard, an AK-47 fell to the ground with a crash when one of the
soldiers rattled the cowshed.
Inside the house, soldiers were interrogating the suspect's father, who said
he knew nothing about his son's activities or how the bomb-making equipment and
firearms got into his yard.
Company B commander Capt. Damien Mason gave the father a chance to come clean
before deciding to detain him.
"Let's send this guy [the son] a message," he said before his men placed a
hood over the father's head, cuffed his wrists and bundled him into one of the
Strykers, parked near the house.
Moments later, the soldiers were in their vehicles and headed back to base.
To the locals, they must have appeared to vanish like ghosts.
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