*Retold with permission.
When the raid went wrong that time, a man died in my arms and I lost a friend. Now, months later, I’m stuck thinking about it still, and knowing it was completely preventable. It was the consequence of bad leadership.
This particular frag-o [emergency mission receiving only a “fragmentary operations order”] was to bring in a high value target (HVT) who intelligence reports had just learned was hiding in a house in Mosul. We had to act swiftly, since once we received intel, it was usually on a short time until THEY somehow found out, too. Without much preparation, we threw together a joint mission of US and Iraqi Police personnel and headed to the raid site.
Since US forces are shifting from the forefront of operations to instead assisting and enabling Iraqi forces, we would provide the secure cordon [perimeter] for the raid while Iraqi Police actually entered the building and apprehended or eliminated the target. This man would, after all, go directly into Iraqi custody – not ours.
We went out there with a sizeable force – more than enough to completely surround this man’s home with heavy firepower – and the Iraqi Police came similarly prepared with a number of officers to conduct the raid itself. As we raced to get into position around his house, I got on the loudspeaker and made my announcement.
I told the guy that it was over, that he was completely surrounded, and that the best solution for him was to surrender and come out of the house with his hands up. If he did not, we would come in and get him, and he would probably die. It was over for him. There was no way to escape.
He responded that he was going to send out the women and children first, for their safety, and he would come out after them. When we agreed to this, the door opened and about seven women of various ages filed out, along with one boy. After we moved them out of harm’s way, I found the man’s wife and asked her if he was armed. She said yes, he was wearing a suicide vest, carrying several grenades, an RPG [rocket propelled grenade launcher], and a pistol. Great. It looked like he wasn’t going to give up at all.
As if on cue, the guy started shooting at us from the house, so while the Iraqi Police took cover, we fired on the house with the 25s from the Bradleys [25mm main gun – which fires high explosive rounds]. Each Bradley put a short volley into the house before stopping. After a few moments of silence, the guy starts shooting at us again. Once more, the Bradleys fire into the house, and once more, he starts shooting back.
After the third time, the guy didn’t fire back. Presumed he’d been killed or wounded, the Iraqi Police got ready to kick in the door and grab him. But, my captain intervened. He wanted US to move in, not the police, even though that was neither the plan nor Coalition Force policy. No, he felt that it would be better if we did it, not the Iraqis. Though they protested, they eventually agreed to stand by while we pushed in onto the target.
The captain had ordered my sergeant to take the lead, and I was close behind. We would enter and clear the building room by room. Kicking in the door, he rushed in. He wasn’t three feet inside the door when I heard gunfire and watched him fall. Behind him, everybody took cover, including the captain.
As I reached into the doorway and grabbed his ankles to drag out my sergeant, the man inside starting shoot at me, too, but we somehow managed to pull him back outside. When we looked him over, I could see the bullet went straight into the center of his forehead. I sat on the ground and cradled his head in my arms. He was still alive – barely.
“Gillum,” he muttered weakly, and then he died. I knew what he meant: “kill him.”
And we did kill him. Backing away from the house, we radioed for helicopters to demolish it completely. Sifting through the ruins later, we discovered that the guy’s wife had lied to us. There was no RPG, suicide vest or grenades. There was only a pistol; the weapon he’d used to kill my sergeant.
If the captain had let the Iraqi Police do their job like they had wanted to and he was supposed to do, my sergeant would still be alive. I still don’t know why he made this call, but I personally think he wanted to be part of the action. But, he made is sergeant go in first – who paid for his commander’s ambition with his own life.
The Soldiers all knew what happened, and so did the Iraqi Police. And they knew it was the result of our captain’s mistake. He’d taken their job from them, needlessly endangered his men, and his decision resulted in one’s death. His mistake was obvious to all of us – even to me as an Iraqi interpreter.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved