The last 24 hours has been interesting -- if a bit incongruous -- in this small slice of mud-brick-house, dusty, 115-degree heaven southeast of Baghdad.
After Blue platoon, Baker Co 1-15's departure from FOB Hammer (from their monthly "refit" in the hot, dry dustbowl that holds the Brigade headquarters) was slightly delayed by an electrical fire inside a Humvee, the actual drive back to COP Cahill (just north of Salman Pak), which passed through some traditionally very bad areas (Jisr Diyala, "Four Corners," which marks the informal boundary between JAM and AQI in the area, and Wuerdiya), was entirely uneventful. Not a shot was fired at us, and no IEDs were detonated -- a state of affairs that I've gotten used to here, as that's been the case for the week that I've been going outside the wire here, although the soldiers tell me that it is a 180 degree improvement from the first half of their six months spent here.
Regardless of the past situation, the only shots fired by the coalition while I've been here (and I've been outside the wire, in-sector almost the entire time) have been on the firing range, save for one warning shot directed toward a vehicle which got too close to a US convoy. The threat of VBIEDs is too great to allow vehicles to approach US trucks, but some drivers just don't listen.
As I mentioned before when recounting the story of the attack on the village of Wuerdiya, the enemy here seems to be going for softer targets like civilians and the National Police. Sure enough, as the sun was going down last night, the northern horizon lit up with the lights and sounds of a gun battle going on a couple kilometers to the north of our combat outpost. Small arms fire echoed inside of our concrete barriers and red tracer rounds flew over the walls of the COP, fading into the night as they passed over our heads.
A series of ground-shaking "booms" followed, signaling the arrival of attack aviation (I could barely spot the silhouette of a helicopter in the dark sky), and the deployment by the NPs of their T-72 tanks. The battle did not last much longer after that.
As with the Wuerdiya incident, we did not rush to the scene, or fight with the NPs; rather, the US forces here allowed them to fight their own fight, standing ready at the COP if needed -- which they weren't.
Today is a COP maintenance day -- new showers, latrines, etc. are being moved in -- and 3rd Platoon is preparing for a MedOp (medical operation, or field clinic) to take place in the morning for the citizens of Wuerdiya. Doctors and medical supplies are being brought in, and the soldiers of Blue Platoon here will secure the area against insurgent attack while the docs and medics provide medical services to those villagers who are in need.
Also, tonight begins a massive Division-level offensive operation, taking the fight to al Qaeda, Jaisch al Islam, JAM, and others. As it's an upcoming operation, I cannot get into specifics now (for Operational Security, or OPSEC reasons). Suffice to say that it willl be big, and should be effective. I'll be participating in a major operation of that offensive tomorrow night, as my last activity here with the 1-15 Infantry (3 ID), before I head north to join the Special Forces for a couple of weeks.
More on the offensive tonight and tomorrow, I hope. As always, more information is available at http://www.jeffemanuel.com, both on the main page and under the tab labeled "From the Field," including my latest articles which appeared in The Weekly Standard online and in Human Events this week.