It’s late afternoon in Iraq, and on Day 7 of the war there is heavy fighting from An Nasiriyah to the south to Najaf, about 95 miles south of Baghdad. Two heavy Abrahms tanks were lost to wire-guided missiles, but the crews reportedly survived. The Seventh Cavalry is there. Their history–under Hal Moore in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam, and in other places and times–is one of tenacity and courage. No difference here.
Amazingly, for all the fierceness of the action, there are no American casualties reported. One former tank commander reminded me that the Iraqis’ most common weapon–the rocket-propelled grenade–bounces of one of our heavies like a well-kicked soccer ball. There is also a growing tide of action in the far north, where U.S. and coalition forces are also working quickly to integrate Kurdish forces into their command structure.
The Marines–when they captured that “hospital” yesterday, found in it a tank, 200 weapons, 3,000 chemical-warfare anti-exposure suits and a supply of atropine needles. There are unconfirmed reports that some captured Iraqis are carrying Ciprofloxacin, the antibiotic drug of choice to treat anthrax. It’s an expensive drug, which points to how Saddam has prepared for these days. It looks more and more likely that there will be chem or bio weapons used against us in the coming days, unless we destroy them or the means they would be delivered before that. Keep in mind that some chemical weapons can be delivered by the 120mm mortars Iraqis have dug in around Baghdad. Mortars are crew-served weapons, but can be moved pretty easily. These units will have to be whacked within minutes of being spotted. Fortunately, the Air Force has been working to shorted what’s called the “kill chain” so that weapons can be delivered more quickly. More on that later.
The fierce sandstorms that have slowed operations for days should end today, and the next two weeks should be clear. We will be able to detect and destroy Iraqi ground units more easily, and the weather’s strain on our people and equipment will lessen. But the stress of battle–increased by more reports of Iraqi atrocities–is only building. According to one report, all seven of the soldiers captured in the convoy ambush last weekend may have been shot.
This goes hand in glove with Saddam’s paramilitary “fedayeen” goons use of civilians as human shields. At least a dozen civilians were killed in just one action with them. The closer we get to Baghdad, the more this will happen. There was a lot of debate yesterday about our going easy on Iraqi civilians, and whether this puts our troops at greater risk. But our choice is not limited to carpet-bombing Iraq, killing thousands of innocents and exposing our soldiers to needless risk. Precision-guided munitions weren’t invented to protect civilians, but to kill the enemy with greater efficiency. Which is what we’re doing, and will do at a growing pace as the days pass.
And, as the days pass, concern over our POWs can only grow. At this point, we have every reason to believe that most of the Americans who were captured were murdered as they tried to surrender or later. Two–the crew of the Apache attack helo shot down earlier this week–are still believed alive. Which brings me to Dave Williams.
Mr. Williams is the father of one of the Apache crew. He spoke to the press yesterday, and had only praise for his son, and for his president. Williams said that he was sure the president was doing all he could to get our people back. Though he was very worried, Williams appeared calm, even confident. That, surely, is courage. For a parent of a POW, this can only be a horrible time. Williams is someone who we should be proud of. The Williams family and the families of all our POWs, deserve our thoughts and prayers at this moment, as do all the families of our fighters.
There are ways to say thanks, and support the troops and their families. Here are a few:
* Donate prepaid long-distance phone cards. www.operationuplink.org
* Donate gift certificates to military dependents in need. www.commissaries.com
* Donate to Operation USO Care Package at www.usocares.org
STAND AND DELIVER
The Iraqis stand, and we deliver. The Iraqis attempted to move two large columns today. One ran south from Baghdad toward the First Marines, charging up from An Nasiriyah. The other tried to break out of Basra, running south into the desert or who knows where. Both stood out, even in the ending sandstorm, because you can run, but you can’t hide when JSTARS is in the sky. One nitwit on a local radio station, passing himself off as a “military expert” talked glowingly about what he called the “JSTARS spy plane.” Calling JSTARS a “spy plane” is like calling someone who won the Olympic decathlon a “runner.”
A slightly modified Boeing 707, JSTARS looks like it has a huge canoe welded under its nose. In that canoe, and shoved into every other cubic inch of the old bird is the most sophisticated battle-management system built. JSTARS has air-to-ground radar that locates, identifies, and tracks every vehicle on the surface of the earth within a range of over 120 miles. If you’re still–or better yet, if you’re rolling–JSTARS will find you, and if you’re not one of the good guys, it can direct every kind of hell to drop on you in short order. So why are the Iraqis trying to move?
We may never know. The Brits sent their Harrier jets after the southern convoy, comprised of tanks and armored personnel carriers. The Harrier carries the 30mm automatic cannon, like the A-10 Warthog. It’s a tank buster, big time. The Desert Rats (the Brit 7th Armored Brigade that gave Rommel fits) also in the area, and not shy about fighting. So much for convoy #1.
In the north, we were tracking the bigger convoy at last report. About 1,000 vehicles, and with any number of people aboard it was strung along the road for miles. JSTARS acquired it immediately, and sent other reconnaissance assets to get better pictures. We’ll have a BDA (bomb-damage assessment) on it later.
What all this proves is less obvious. The column coming from Basra was almost certainly Iraqi regulars, perhaps some stray Republican Guards. They are good, but not descendants of Werner von Braun. Whenever we can engage them on our terms, we win. Period. The other column is anybody’s guess. Mine is that most of them were Saddam’s fedayeen, the illegals. Let’s not call them “irregulars” or “paramilitary.” Those terms are too honorable for them. These fedayeen are tough, fanatical, and care nothing about losses. But they ain’t geniuses either. So what are they planning? This column may have been running south not to stop the Marines (which is beyond their capability) but to help their pals who are surrounded by the Marines. That won’t work, either.
So what is Saddam up to? He can’t win, but he thinks he can force us into a 1991 cease fire if he makes it hot enough for us. And I think I know how he wants to do it. Give me another hour or two, and you’ll know too.