Olmsted was determined to make a difference in Iraq. "The sooner the Iraqi government doesn't need U.S. support to provide security for its people, the sooner we will probably be asked to leave."
AIF: Anti-Iraqi Forces, or people trying to overthrow/eliminate the elected Iraqi government (GoI) through violence.
AO: Area of Operations
AQI: Al Qaeda in Iraq, Sunni AIF dedicated to the imposition of a Taliban-style regime in Iraq (also known as AQM)
AQM: Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, see AQI
BiTT: Border Transition Team, a group of officers and NCOs designed to build and train Iraqi border forces
CF: Coalition Forces, any foreign force working in Iraq under the current UN mandate
DFAC: Dining Facility, formerly known as the Mess Hall
FOB: Forward Operaring Base, where U.S. and Iraqi Army units live and work
GoI: Government of Iraq, hopefully self-explanatory
HMMWV: High-Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle, the Army's replacement for the Jeep and the standard transportation for personnel in Iraq, also sometimes known as a Hummer
IA: Iraqi Army
IED: Improvised Explosive Device, a bomb usually placed by a road and used to attack Coalition Forces with slim chances of reprisals
IP: Iraqi Police
ISI: Islamic State of Iraq, pseudo-/shadow government established in areas controlled by AQI
JAM: Jaish al Mahdi, the Mahdi Army, a Shia militia group associated with Moqtada al Sadr
JSWG: Joint Security Working Group, a regular meeting of local security forces including IA, IP, and the local political leaders
MiTT: Military Transition Team, a group of officers and NCOs designed to help build and train the Iraqi Army
NCO: Noncommissioned Officer, Corporals to Sergeants Major
Negligent Discharge: firing a weapon at any time other than at an enemy or on a range
ODA: Operational Detachment Alpha, Special Forces team formerly known as an A-Team
Outside the Wire: Away from the FOB
PiTT: Police Transition Team, a groups of officers, NCOs, and sometimes civilian police designed to help build and train Iraqi police forces
SIGACT: Significant Activity
The average Iraqi probably would love to see the U.S. gone, at least if we could leave without the country descending into chaos and bloodshed. But Iraqi children still love U.S. convoys, if only because we like to toss goodies to them as we pass by. It's debatable whether or not we should, but it's hard to resist when you see the children swimming in dirty canals and making do at levels of subsistence that make poverty in the U.S. seem like a sweet deal in comparison. So we like to toss candy, school packets, and soccer balls to the kids when we can.
One problem with all that, however, is that soccer balls tend to deflate over time, and we only have one air pump, so while the kids enjoy getting the balls, over time they need new ones. So we'd like to be able to provide them with pumps to go with the balls, if we can. Which is where all of you come in. Much as I dislike begging, if there is someone out there reading this who knows of a way we can get air pumps for soccer balls cheaply, I would greatly appreciate it if you would drop me a line and help us out.Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 05:25 AM | Comments (2)
Coming back from a visit to one of our battalions, our lead vehicle comes to a sudden stop. There's a civilian vehicle stopped in the middle of the road ahead. That's a classic sign for an IED attack, so we set up security to check things out, machine gunners scanning the area for any signs of a trigger man or shooters. Mac moves up to get a better look and sees a man on the ground, his dishdasha dark red. Looks like someone has been ambushed, so we roll up quickly to survey the site and see if we can help.
Mac is first on the ground to confirm that the man is wounded, two Iraqi women with him wailing over his injuries. I run up with Q, one of our terps, to check him out until Doc gets there. His dishdasha is absolutely drenched with blood, and my first thought is that there is no way he's going to make it. I begin checking him for injuries; he has obvious wounds in his hands and arms, but I can't find anything on his torso.
Doc hits the ground next to me and confirms what I saw; the man's injuries, though painful, are not life-threatening now that Doc is on the scene. I help Doc treat his wounds, telling our other terp, Tony, to fetch him some water. Q keeps the women away as we work. I tell the man he's going to be all right, and while he doesn't understand the words, his murmured 'thank you mister' tells me he gets the gist of what I'm saying.
Mac commandeers an Iraqi bongo truck. Nobody wants to take the man to the hospital, so he offers them a choice: give the man a ride, or give up their truck and we'll use it. They decide to drive him to the hospital after all. While Doc finishes treating his wounds, I run to the car to see if anyone else is alive.
Four men are slumped in the car. The man in the forward passenger seat is lying in the lap of the driver, his skull open to the sky. Thankfully I don't vomit at the sight. The others are in equally poor shape; none of them have life left in them. I snap some pictures of the ambush scene for the record, holding the camera far from me as I don't want to get any closer look at the interior of the car. Pictures done, I move back to help load the man into the truck and we mount up.
The ride to the hospital is quick, and the Iraqi docs rush out to pull the man out and get him inside so they can treat him. We go inside with him, as Doc wants to make sure they'll treat him properly, and we need to find out what happened, so Tony, Q, and I chat with the two women.
The men in the car were all related. A cousin of theirs drowned in a canal a few days ago, and they were going to pay their respects at his grave site. Three AIF set up an illegal checkpoint on the road they were using, and when they stopped for the checkpoint, they emptied three magazines of AK-47 ammo into the car. It is a miracle our friend survived, but survive he has. His relatives were not so fortunate, and instead of paying their respects, they will now go into the ground not far from their drowned cousin.
Doc is satisfied the man is in good hands. We move back to the trucks and mount up to continue the mission. As I step into the HMMWV, I see a large patch of slowly-drying blood on my sleeve, a souvenir from my attempts to check the man for wounds. I shake my head and sit down; we've got work to do.Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 06:16 AM | Comments (12)
After the 'excitement' of our raid last Friday, it has been rather quiet. We've run up to see our battalion, a good thing after not having seen them for a week, but there wasn't a great deal we could do to help them. They have been together for a very long time, and they're pretty set in their ways. They don't want to hear about training or fixing their logistics problems, they just want us to give them whatever they can't get for themselves. So we hear lots of requests for parts and other supplies, and when we don't come through, they have little use for us.
In a way, this is a good thing, in that our battalion is probably about as ready as any in the Iraqi Army to operate independently. It would be better if I could say that was due to my outstanding ability as an advisor, but the important thing is that these guys actually are pretty good when they have the support they need.
There are down sides to this, however. One, while they're good, they could be a lot better if they would take the time to train. The U.S. Army didn't get where it is today by sitting on its laurels, and we won't stay good if we don't train often. It's the price you pay to succeed in combat. While these Iraqis often have more combat experience than anyone in the U.S. Army, their lack of training consistently undermines them. And it makes them dangerous; our local ODA (Special Forces A Team) has a memorial to an interpreter they lost to an Iraqi Army negligent discharge.
The second issue is that Iraqi logistics just aren't there yet. Every time we talk to our guys, their issues are logistics. Ammo, fuel, repair parts...it's always something. And the problems so rarely are solved on their end, they don't want to bother trying any more. We tell them they need to push their system to work, but they have seen their system fail so often they see no point to once again filling out paperwork that will bring them nothing. They just want us to get them what they need to do their jobs.
It promises to be a long year.Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 08:37 AM | Comments (2)
The Coalition Force we're attached to has done yeoman work trying to clean up the nearest city to our FOB. While it is by no means perfectly safe, enemy activity has dropped markedly thanks to their efforts, and we see the difference in how many more locals there are out and about in the marketplace every time we drive through. Needless to say, the CF wants to build on that success, so they came up with a plan to clear out a village where AIF have been trying to infiltrate the city.
While this would be a primarily CF operation, it's important to have IA involved in any operation we undertake. One, it helps to show them how to do these things right, and two, it lets the local citizens see that their army is going after the enemy. Because the IA operates directly with the CF in this type of operation, we don't normally have much of a role beyond putting the two forces together, but this time things were going to be a little different.
The CF commander asked for my team to come along to serve as a reserve force for his teams, just in case.
So it was we found ourselves jumping out of our vehicles at 0500 into the darkness and onto the street, orienting into a block of houses where we feared enemy forces might set up to snipe at us while we clear the area. The area looks odd in the black and green of our night vision, and scanning the area is a bit disconcerting with the weight of the NODs on our helmets. The platoon we're covering grabs their Iraqi counterparts and moves to the first building, kicking in the door and rushing into the darkness behind us.
The first few buildings are tense for us, as we have to divide our attention between watching to the west and making sure we keep up as they move down the street. It becomes quickly evident news of the raid did not remain secret, as most buildings we come to are empty. Bad news, both because we probably won't get any of our targets and because the enemy may well have left some surprises behind for us.
As the darkness leaches into daylight and our body armor grows heavier with each passing hour, such fears are less prevalent. We've gone more than a kilometer from our dismount point and haven't found a damn thing. We chat with one another to try and stay alert; it's easy to get complacent after more than an hour of nothing happening, especially as we are now away from areas where the enemy might ambush us.
Four hours after we dismounted, we finally remount our trucks and prepare to exfiltrate. We captured four people, none of whom appear to be leadership types. On the face of it, it seems like something of a failure, as we really wanted to roll up some enemy forces, and we had the forces in place to do just that. But the CF commander has done his homework on this op: IP checkpoints go up as we are leaving. The enemy may not have stayed to fight, but he will not be able to just roll back in when we are gone. We've still got to track him down, but the operation has made the city a bit safer.
Which doesn't make our backs feel any better as we roll back to the FOB and try to recover.Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 09:57 AM | Comments (4)
Today I needed to go to a nearby town to attend the JSWG: Join Security Working Group. We encourage the local cities to hold JSWGs weekly. They're supposed to bring together the local politicians, police, and army forces to discuss how to better secure the area from enemy forces. I attend them as much as I can both to meet with my IA counterparts and to improve my situational awareness and understanding of the security challenges the local towns are dealing with.
Sometimes, during the course of the meeting, other issues come up that we have to address. Last week I ended up having to help secure the trucks while we investigated some attacks against IP stations in another town. That was a long, hot day. Today wasn't as bad, but it was still interesting.
We got word during the meeting that a local who is rumored to be affiliated with one of Iraq's alphabet soup insurgent groups had come to the IP station and was attempting to coopt some of the IPs and undermine the police chief. He had done this before, and the Coalition Forces commander in our AO had warned him not to do it again. So we got word to run him out of town and warn him not to come back or he would be arrested.
After the meeting we moved to the IP station and occupied the building with the intent of rounding up our target. Things were a little tense as we moved in, as we didn't know if he had managed to co-opt any of the IPs or if he had any personal security with him. We moved into and through the building quickly and carefully, only to discover that he had left while we were still in our meeting. We moved back to our vehicles and mounted up to try and track him down at his home.
Because we had reason to believe he knew we were coming after him, we were somewhat brusque as we searched his house. We didn't kick in any doors, but we did upset his family as we moved in with weapons at the ready. It was my first experience clearing a house for real, and it was not particularly pleasant. We were all keyed up, not knowing if the guy was inside or if they had set a trap for us, then having a screaming child there who is only going to remember that men with guns invaded her home...it's not anything anyone should have to endure. And there wasn't anyone else home. Our target had moved on to a local mosque.
So it was on the to mosque. We can't go into mosques...that's a political no-no...so we spoke with some people outside who told us that our target had just left to go home. We didn't really want to go back to his house, but we needed to find him, so back we went. Thankfully, he was out front, so we were able to speak with him without having to go back inside. We gave him the warning and waited for him to grab a few things so we could escort him out of town.
With him gone, that should have been the end. We just had to make one more brief stop, then we were on our way back to the FOB. Things can't be that simple. As we were leaving to go to the FOB, who should we see walking up but the guy who drove our target out of town, there to demand we give back a radio we confiscated. We told him that not only wasn't he getting his radio back, but he had five minutes to get back out of town before we arrested him. We moved into position to watch him move out, then blocked his path to express to him how sincere we were about rounding him up if he came back. That was unpleasant, as he had his family with him in the car, and I can't imagine it did them any good to see the Americans with guns show up again, regardless of the fact we didn't actually do anything to their father. Why he didn't bring his family the first time we ran him out of town I don't know.
We escorted him out of town, then finally headed back to the FOB, hot, tired, sweaty, and worst of all, not entirely certain what we accomplished that got us in that state. Such is another day in Iraq.Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 11:27 AM | Comments (4)
3d battalion, whom we are responsible for because their MiTT is doing other missions, is responsible for an important road in our AO. About a year ago the road was an IED trap, so the battalion laid out a series of outposts to keep an eye on the road. That has worked well, and there are a lot fewer IEDs along the route now, but the enemy has changed tactics to try and go after the outposts in hopes of driving the IA off.
In an ideal world, the IA would improve their outposts themselves to ensure their soldiers were protected. But we don't live in that world, and we needed to try and do something to get them motivated. So we spoke with our Coalition counterparts, and the squadron volunteered a pile of Hescos, concertina wire, pickets, and barbed wire to improve one of the outposts. We selected the one that is hit most often and spoke with the battalion XO to see if he could use the material. He was enthusiastic, so we worked with him to lay on the transportation and other support we would need to build the improved outpost.
Thursday morning we rolled out to get to work. Although we managed to get everything loaded, things looked bad pretty quickly when we saw that the Iraqis hadn't brought more than a dozen soldiers to set everything up. In two hours we managed to erect one set of four seven-foot Hescos, and the Iraqis were already done for the day.
So I lost my temper. The Iraqi company commander chose that moment to show up, and I grabbed him and explained that we had gone to no small effort to provide him with more protection for his outpost, and he wasn't fulfilling his part of the bargain. I packed my guys up and told the commander that we would come back tomorrow, and if they hadn't continued the work while we were gone, I would never bother to get them anything again because they'd demonstrated they wouldn't use what I did get them. Perhaps a little over the top, but it seemed to get his attention.
The next afternoon we drove down and, to our surprise, saw that they had completed about 70% of the outpost in our absence. A good start, and I let the commander know I was pleased, but that he needed to make sure the work was completed. He agreed, and we parted on friendlier terms than the previous day.
This morning we rolled down for the third time in four days, and when the outpost came into sight, it was almost complete. It wasn't to American standards, and there are still plenty of things they could do to improve it, but it was a huge improvement over where they began. They said they were attacked last night, but had no casualties thanks to the Hesco bastions. Naturally, they also had a laundry list of other problems they wanted us to solve for them, but the bottom line for the team was that they'd managed to do something mostly by themselves, which is the end state we're working towards.
Now to see about more barrier material for the next outpost...Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 04:52 AM | Comments (2)