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Back to Iraq
By Michael Fumento
I'm b-a-a-a-ck! I'm in Kuwait waiting -- and waiting and waiting -- for transportation into Iraq. First by C-130 to the International Zone in Baghdad, then Chinook or Blackhawk to Camp Ramadi, then by the "dagger run" in Ramadi proper and First Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division at Camp Corregidor. That's the delightful place where I ended up my last Iraq trip.
You may have heard that things have not gone well in the area since my last visit, including the report saying essentially that Anbar Province is lost politically if not militarily, whatever that means exactly. I can say that Ramadi specifically has apparently worsened since my last visit in April. Last month, one of the 19 SEALs I first saw combat with received the dubious honor of becoming the first SEAL to die in the war. His team leader was shot shortly thereafter, but went back to work three days later with a bullet still in his shoulder. Last week 13 police recruits were blown up there. The next day's papers quoted John Abizaid saying "It's very, very clear that Anbar province is a problem that will have to be dealt with over time. It's a violent area; it's a tribal area; it's a tough area." But he then added that "over time" means no new troops in the foreseeable future. Not that that always helps.
Shortly after I left, First Brigade of the First Armored Division was brought in from Kuwait as an emergency measure to help stabilize the situation. They set up five forward operating bases and they've taken a steady stream of casualties since then. I'm not entirely sure why, but the readiest explanation is that since they are a whole brigade (seemingly an oversized one at that), they have far more people to kill than a battalion-plus unit like that at Corregidor. I've also heard some of their FOBS are -- or at least originally were -- so small that George Washington could throw a silver grenade across them. Another guess, though, might be that that armor has a limited role in guerrilla war and the infantry in an armored unit is trained to work with armor. Guerrilla wars are best fought with light infantry and special counterinsurgency forces. Be that as it may, First Brigade had the only spare troops so the job became theirs by default.
More ominously, the enemy has also obviously brought in crack snipers from other countries. The last death in 1/506th was from sniper fire. Closer to home (in a personal sense), last month an embed with 1/506th took what was presumably a sniper round in the ribcage that tumbled a bit and popped out his chest. I think he got out of the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany just last week. The photographer embedded with 1/506th who was shot right before I got there in April was definitely sniped, suffering two broken legs. Incidentals like machine gun fire, rifle fire, IEDs and mortar barrages just add a bit of spice. My efforts in returning, therefore, have revolved around snipers.
First, since the snipers like journalist meat because killing a journalist brings a better chance of media attention, I've bought the new ACU uniform so I won't stand out. In a quick scan of the field, the difference between a camera bag and a carbine may not be readily noticeable. (And no, I'm not allowed to carry a weapon -- even to throw off snipers.)
My second line of defense against snipers is the loan of improved armor with side ceramic plate protection. It's probably no coincidence that last reporter was hit where he was.
Third, my physical training this time comprised jogging with full armor and all the gear I'll be wearing on patrol plus a bit extra. Contrary to Hollywood portrayals, a sniper cannot put a scope on a rapidly-moving target. The men of the 101st know that and whenever they aren't under cover, they jog or go at a dead run. Nothing can provide perfect protection; sometimes you have to expose yourself to get a good shot whether with a rifle or a camera. But I can cut the odds. Perhaps my best defense is that I am most certainly spooked, just not quite spooked enough to stay home. With the bad guys usually going overboard to impress Allah and collect on those 72 virgins during Ramadan, which just started and will continue past when I leave, I expect to see combat and probably lots of it.
Finally, my reasons are the same as before -- and as confirmed by the literally hundreds of letters I have received since my last trip. Almost nobody has both the guts and the ability to do this sort of thing, so it falls to those of us who can to do so. Earlier this year when I was in Ramadi, there were only three other embeds in all of Al Anbar. Another vet who just set out on his own odyssey to both Afghanistan and Iraq, John Newberry, put it thus:
Myself, I'm not entirely sure how many Americans want to get it. We have become fat, lazy, and decadent and willing to let a tiny handful of our people like those brave and battered souls in Ramadi make all the sacrifices in what should be a national struggle against those who insist we convert or die. Whatever it was in the beginning, Iraq is now part of the war on terror. My own job has become victim to a populace that would rather be entertained than informed, rather be immobile than mobilized, rather be told what they'd like to hear than what they need to know. For lack of funding to my account my 7-year tenure with Hudson Institute ends the day I'm scheduled to come home. My life as a journalist may be ending. Here's to what promises to be a hell of a last fling!
September 29, 2006 12:07 PM · Iraq