Running to Yarmuk Traffic Circle
The Yarmuk traffic circle is fantastically dangerous. On the first mission I ran in Mosul, we lost two soldiers and an interpreter, all killed by a car bomb. Others were horribly burned, scarred for life. Many of our wounded and killed soldiers got it right here, or in the immediate vicinity. The ISF takes serious losses in this part of town. But it's not entirely one-sided--the Deuce Four has killed well over 150 terrorists in this neighborhood in the past 10 months. But almost none of those made the news, and those that did had a few key details missing.
Like the time when some ISF were driving and got blasted by an IED, causing numerous casualties and preventing them from recovering the vehicle. The terrorists came out and did their rifle-pumping-in-the-air thing, shooting AKs, dancing around like monkeys. Videos went 'round the world, making it appear the terrorists were running Mosul, which was pretty much what was being reported at the time.
But that wasn't the whole story. In the Yarmuk neighborhood, only terrorists openly carry AK-47s. The lawyers call this Hostile Intent. The soldiers call this Dead Man Walking.
Deuce Four is an overwhelmingly aggressive and effective unit, and they believe the best defense is a dead enemy. They are constantly thinking up innovative, unique, and effective ways to kill or capture the enemy; proactive not reactive. They planned an operation with snipers, making it appear that an ISF vehicle had been attacked, complete with explosives and flash-bang grenades to simulate the IED. The simulated casualty evacuation of sand dummies completed the ruse.
The Deuce Four soldiers left quickly with the "casualties," "abandoning" the burning truck in the traffic circle. The enemy took the bait. Terrorists came out and started with the AK-rifle-monkey-pump, shooting into the truck, their own video crews capturing the moment of glory. That's when the American snipers opened fire and killed everybody with a weapon. Until now, only insiders knew about the AK-monkey-pumpers smack-down.
And there we were, in the Yarmuk traffic circle, where so many people die so violently. LT Keneally and SSG Eric Richardson had cuffed the guy with the striped shirt and the transmitter. LTC Kurilla started interrogating the terrorist, asking where the bombs are, stopping only for the interpreter.
Meanwhile, Strykers took up blocking positions, and began scanning the area for enemy. Everyone knew that other terrorists were out there, somewhere, watching us. After all, we were standing in what might be the most dangerous traffic circle in the universe.
I was thinking, of course: IEDs. Snipers. RPGs. Car bombs. Mortars. And then, after scanning the area and reflecting, I rethought and came up with: IEDs. Snipers. RPGs. Car bombs. Mortars. But we hadn't been shot at by snipers in days, and Kurilla managed to make the terrorist point to where the IEDs were buried. That's when automatic weapons started firing at us.
Bullets flying by, and enemy weapons firing: PaPaPaPaPaPaPaPaPaPow . . . zinnggg . . . GawGawGawGawPaPaGawGaw. . . . different types of weapons were shooting.
One of our big machine guns started boomboomboom . . . boomboomboom . . . boomboom boom, and then our guys with those little rifles they carry, poppop . . . poppoppoppop. . . . to my left . . . poppoppoppoppoppoppopp to my right, and then, boomboomboom PaPaPaPaPaPpoppoppoppopp GawGawGaw BOOM PaPaPpoppopGawGaw GawGawGawPaPaPpop popboom boom boom.
This was an appropriate time to run for cover. Enemy bullets snapping by. I saw at least two soldiers smiling--authors are not allowed to carry weapons PaPaPGawGaw
BOOM PaPaPpop zinnggg--dust clouding the air--sure would be nice to have a gun instead of a camera right now boompop Gawsnapsnap boom boompoppboomGawGawGaw.
I looked back to where we had been because the prisoner [the American soldiers always remind me that I should call prisoners "detainees"] was still there, handcuffed, and on his knees, with the radio transmitter lying beside him on the ground.
We had left the prisoner in the open. Bullets are snapping, and I'm crouched on a knee behind a Stryker. When I look back again, I see Kurilla standing out there, alone, next to the terrorist on the sidewalk. Bullets are kicking up dirt and Kurilla gives us a look: What the hell! You left the prisoner!
For a moment, I nearly ran back out to drag the terrorist behind the Stryker, but then I thought, Nope, he's a terrorist! If Kurilla gets shot, I'm definitely going to get him. But the terrorist can get shot to pieces and I don't care.
Instead of doing something useful--and I feel marginally guilty about this, but not too much--I start snapping photos as the Commander drags the guy by the collar to get him to the cover of the Stryker. I can't believe Kurilla is still alive after nearly a year of doing this.
BoomboomboomPaPaPaPaPaP pop pop
Soon we cleared the area south of the circle where we were taking fire. It was over within about 20 minutes; the enemy broke contact for a short time. Maybe we killed some. Before it could start up again, more American platoons arrived, as well as our Warmonger air support. Soldiers love those helicopter pilots. With back-up on site, we made security positions, and waited for the Army Explosives Ordinance Disposal [EOD] team to arrive.
All the while we were parked at the traffic circle, I expected mortars or car bombs at any moment. The longer we sat there, still and waiting, the greater the risk. We had recently uncovered a giant cache of IEDs, and some were pre-fabbed into concrete to look like road curbs. Sections of the road underneath us might very well be bombs. One EOD soldier didn't seem happy to be there. "Nice Fun Meter!" I said and snapped a photo.
The EOD soldiers loaded their little Talon robot with a claw full of C-4 plastic explosives. The robot rolled down the road and put the explosives where we thought the IEDs were. The robot scampered back a short distance:
Fire in the hole, fire in the hole, fire in the hole!
Nothing. Just the C-4 exploded.
One soldier said, "You're not going to write about this are you? That wasn't anything. Don't make it sound like a big deal, okay? My mom reads your stuff, and every time you write about something dangerous she freaks out."
"No problem," I said, "I'll water it down from here out." There was some minor shooting going on around us, and an EOD lieutenant came up and said, "I loved that dispatch called the Devil's Foyer."
"Thank you," I replied, then asked, "What was that green sub-munition I photographed for that dispatch? A thousand people wrote me asking about it."
The Lieutenant answered, "Could have been different things. Like chemical, but probably was just high explosives. When those sub-munitions deploy, they spin and arm. Probably that one was not armed," he answered.
The sounds of shooting between Deuce Four platoons and terrorists kept wafting in, but it wasn't very close. I still expected mortars, a car bomb, maybe a sniper.
The robot scampered out and laid down another claw-full of plastic explosives. BOOM!
The robot scampered back.
"Isn't all that shit pretty hot?" asked an EOD soldier.
"Not really," I said.
Should be some mortars landing on us any moment now.
The EOD guys stuck more explosives in the robot's claw. It was like a dog trained to fetch, but the only treat this robot needs is a charged battery-pack. It scampered back out. BOOM!
That's three strikes. Time for the EOD guys to pull out and leave. This irritates and angers the soldiers immensely, but I've run with EOD guys before, and their work is exceptionally dangerous. The enemy specifically tries to kill them, making it important that EOD be used only when absolutely needed. This EOD team said that if we find the bomb, please call. They drove home.
And so we sat there, with the two damn terrorists. Couldn't get the bombs to explode. There might be other bombs close by, and there might be other terrorists with other radio transmitters. Just because we had the one transmitter and the two bad guys did not mean we could just walk around the center ring of the bull's eye and poke around looking for trouble. Trouble would definitely find us in Yarmuk circle. Time was working against us.