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Raids, Grenades, and Gunfire: The Last Few Days in Samarra, Part II

September 16, 2007

Note: Click here for the rest of Jeff's articles, dispatches, and updates from the front lines in Iraq.

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The operations tempo here in Samarra has been so high lately that I haven't had a chance to write up many updates, so here's a quick overview of the last few days (more detail to follow).

I went on a pair of early-morning (2-3am) raids with Red Platoon (from Charlie Company 2-505, 82nd Airborne Division), in the southeastern part of town (a very bad area). We didn't catch either of the guys we were looking for, but the drive back on both was pretty exciting, as we took a good deal of gunfire.

Specialist Ryan Testa takes a knee during Red Platoon's recent patrol of central Samarra.
(photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

During the daytime, we went on patrols of various areas of town. One day Red Platoon was dropped off to patrol on foot through a couple of pretty rough sectors, and, as we moved through a clearing between two alleys, a good bit of AK-47 fire was directed our way.

SPC Testa takes cover in the entrance to a house as the Platoon takes fire from across an open area.
(photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

As we all took cover, I and one soldier, Specialist Ryan Testa, had the rotten luck of ducking into the one house entrance whose courtyard door would not open, so we were left halfway hanging out in the breeze, with rounds being sprayed in our general direction.

Soldiers and Iraqi Police climb to the roof of a house to look for the source of gunfire.
(photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

Within seconds, though, we hustled across the open area and into a corner house, which we cleared and moved up to the rooftop.

A Red Platoon paratrooper searches for gunfire from a rooftop in Samarra.
(photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

From there, we looked for suspicious vehicles and listened for gunfire, but whoever it was that had shot at us had apparently left the scene.

A Humvee providing outer security for the dismount patrol rolls by the house as Red Platoon used the roof to search for gunfire.
(photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

Based on the reports from the people still in the Humvees (which were cloverleafing around us, as they generally do after kicking out dismounts, and providing an outer security cordon with their .240 and 50-caliber turret-mounted guns), the shots had been fired from the main road we were walking towards. Since the Humvee column had crossed the road ahead of the dismounted soldiers, the vehicles had taken the fire instead of the people on foot.

We were not reengaged for the remainder of the patrol, and made it back to PB Olson intact.

Iraqi Police and Red Platoon paratroopers pull security on Route Lakers during a market patrol.
(photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

Red Platoon has also recently conducted foot patrols through various markets in town, checking prices of imported goods and handing out tip cards to shop owners, which have a phone number they can use to reach coalition forces with information on insurgent personnel or activities in Samarra. One of these patrols was on a wide-open main road, known as "Route Lakers," and it was a bit tense being out in the middle of the open there, where anybody could have taken a potshot at us at any time. We didn't take any contact there, and re-mounted our vehicles for the second half of the patrol -- a drive through a pretty bad part of town looking for new graffiti on the walls. No contact was made here, either, and we made it back safely.

The night before last, I accompanied Green Platoon on a raid in northwestern Samarra, on which they were looking for a sniper who was involved with al Qaeda here. Rather than drive, we walked out the gate a couple hours after midnight, and made our way to the objective entirely on foot. A sniper team was set up to overwatch the mission, and Green Platoon went into two houses. The first was abandoned, but was filled with boxes of black-market pharmaceuticals from the Samarra Drug Institute (SDI), a plant in northern Samarra which is heavily affiliated with AQI. The second house was the correct one, but it turned out to belong to the parents of the man we were after, rather than to the man himself. The target's 12-year-old brother was there, though, and said that he could take us to his brother's house by daylight. Green Platoon brought him back to Patrol Base Olson to wait until dawn, at which point - sure enough - he led the unit to the target, who they detained. As half of the platoon took the detainee back to Olson, the other half took the boy home, and Captain Ferris (the Charlie Company commander) gave him $50 of his own personal money for the good information.

Yesterday, I accompanied two different platoons on patrols. First was White Platoon, whose mission was to drive north of the city to check out al Qaeda activity. On the way up the northbound road known to the soldiers as Route "North Dover," Staff Sergeant Kane Ogren -- the lead vehicle's commander -- spotted a pressure wire across the road, which was connected to an IED. Whether to alert civilian drivers not to pass that way or to distract soldiers driving through from noticing the pressure wire itself, the people who had placed the explosive there had piled tires and other rubbish in the southbound lane of the road, and SSG Ogren noticed the wire just in time to stop his vehicle and avoid hitting it.

White Platoon's commander, Captain Shea Goltry, put in a call to EOD (explosive ordnance disposal), and we sat there on North Dover for over an hour waiting for them to arrive and dispose of the IED. While we sat still on the main road (never a good idea anywhere in this country, let alone in Samarra), the front two Humvees were fired at from a warehouse and from a mosque to their north. The vehicles' gunners returned fire, and were able to suppress the shooting. Artillery was called in on the warehouse, giving the mortar-firing team at PB Olson their first work in quite some time.

After an extremely long wait, EOD arrived, and their robot inspected the IED, which turned out to be two huge artillery rounds (one 152mm and one 130mm shell). While they were working, Iraqi Police showed up (once the IED was out of the way, they would be searching the mosque that had fired on us). Three controlled detonations later, the IED had been disposed of, and we quickly moved north to search the warehouse and the mosque. By that time both had long since been abandoned, so we made our way back to PB Olson without further incident.

That evening, I rode out with Green Platoon to the southeastern corner of the city. This is the worst part of Samarra, and one which sees a great deal of al Qaeda activity. The plan was to dismount in the easternmost section of that part of the city, and to walk west through a series of neighborhoods before re-mounting the Humvees and heading back to Olson. However, we never made it to the dismount portion of the patrol, as we took fire on several separate occasions. The first time, it came from several floors of a house that we were driving past; the gunner in my vehicle (I was in the rear Humvee) let loose with a barrage of 50-caliber machine gun fire and silenced the enemy shooting. As we made a turn onto a main road following that, a hand grenade was thrown from a building onto the road between two of our vehicles; though the explosion made a loud noise (we thought at first that it was an IED), no vehicles or people were damaged or injured at all -- we just kept on driving.

A few minutes later our rear vehicle was fired at from a house on the corner of a clearing; as I turned to my right (I was in the back right seat of the Humvee), I could see muzzle flashes on the first and second floors, as well as on the roof. Our .50-cal gunner let loose on the building, and was joined by the turret gunner of the Iraqi Police Humvee right in front of us, who saw what our gunner was doing and swung his PKC around in the same direction. The two of them managed to suppress that fire, as well.

During this and the previous engagement, I had to play "AG" (assistant gunner), passing ammunition up into the turret so that our gunner could keep firing. In all, he went through three boxes of ammo -- somewhere between 300 and 500 rounds of very large bullets.

After breaking contact that third (and final) time, Green drove around the city for another several minutes, apparently trying to pursue a black BMW with terrorists inside, but never found it. Following that, we returned to PB Olson for the night.

More information and detail to come. Sadly, I only have a couple days left in this fascinating city; after that, I head to Doura, in southern Baghdad, where I'll be linking up with the 1-4 Cavalry from Ft. Riley, Kansas's 1st Infantry Division.

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At 12:10 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Get some lads!

At 9:34 PM, Anonymous rockdrums48 said...

Just another thought for you. I have yet to read anyone address a particular phenomanom I'm sure you've experienced with respect to the combat soldiers you've met and talked to while you are in your current imbed. They are both, personally humble about their individual abilities and accomplishments, yet supremely confident about their abilities as a unit to accomplish any mission assigned to them. This seems to me to be one of the great strengths of the American Military Soldier. I wouldn't personally know how to address a story on that subject, but I suspect, after reading your work that you certainly could.



At 12:22 AM, Blogger Herschel said...

Thanks for the good coverage Jeff. Seems like still heavy kinetic operations compared to other locations. You've picked a good one! I wish I could be there with you, but in lieu of that, with the other readers, thanks for giving us your mind's eye for the situation there.

At 2:47 AM, Blogger BrianFH said...

Hm, sending out AK rounds and getting back a bunch of .50-cal must be a bit of a shock ....


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