View Full Version : Walking the Line 2007 Part 2 of 3

01-13-07, 03:39 PM
Walking the Line 2007 Part 2 of 3
Michael Yon

West of Baghdad, Al Anbar Province is a vast, lawless frontier stretching to the Syrian border. The population is almost exclusively Sunni Arab, leaving little cause for sectarian violence but plenty of room for other reasons to fight. (View the region on this map and see the breakdown of religious affiliations on this one.) Major cities in Anbar Province, such as Fallujah, are fantastically dangerous. Yet the Marines and Army, along with some Navy and Air Force personnel, are probably stretched as thin here as the Border Patrol between the U.S. and Mexico. No matter how they spread it, our fighters simply do not have enough paint to cover the barn called Anbar.

The fighting is brutal. Snipers on both sides take their toll on heads, while hidden bombs can take America’s toughest tank—the mighty M1, weighing in at roughly 150,000 pounds—and heave it into the air, sending its heavy turret sailing a hundred yards, and flipping the rest of the burning hulk on its back like a giant, exploding turtle in what is called a catastrophic attack. When such bombs detonate under Humvees, the scattered remnants can fit into the trunk of another Humvee. Smaller IEDs and platter charges rip through the vehicles like a cannonball through fog, leaving some dusty mud-cratered roads looking like the moon.

As with “shaped charges,” which have been falsely touted as high-technology imports, EFPs or Explosively Formed Projectiles (a new and fancy name for a “platter charge”) are often just easy-fab cheap weapons that an illiterate person can be taught to make. That said, there is evidence that some EFPs in Iraq are higher-tech “factory made” bombs.

The cost of making an EFP or a shaped charge capable of wiping out a Humvee crew (or even a tank) might range from twenty to fifty American dollars. I do not know the cost, but the cost cannot be high. In Iraq, labor is cheap and the enemy will not run out of ammunition any time soon. There are probably hundreds of thousands of tons of UXO still in Iraq, and “plastic” explosives generally cost less than good beef in America. EFPs and shaped charges are relatively tiny but absolutely lethal when they hit the target. A large shaped charge might weigh a hundred pounds, but a person could carry several smaller EFPs in a backpack.

The idea that EFPs are recent developments specially invented to kill Coalition soldiers in Iraq is untrue. In 1989 a powerful German banker named Alfred Herrhausen experienced a roadside bomb in the form of an EFP. Mr. Herrhausen was being chauffeured to work in an armored Mercedes, with security vehicles accompanying him lead and trail, much like three Humvees convoying down an Iraqi road. Up ahead lay the EFP; at roughly 45 pounds it was small enough to fit into a schoolbag. When Herrhausen’s armored car tripped a light beam a heavy slug of metal blasted through the air at more than a mile per second, penetrating the armored door and shredding Mr. Herrhausen. One-shot, one-kill, the engineering of that horrendous assassination was incredible. After nearly two decades, no perpetrator has been caught.

Apparently many of the EFPs are being factory-made in Iran, and shipped to Iraq. During 2005, I asked many American and Iraqi commanders if they were capturing Iranians. They were capturing foreigners, surely, but what about Iranians? Not a single commander, Iraqi or American, told me that his people were catching Iranians. Times have changed. Today, American commanders talk about capturing Iranians. Not rumored Iranians, but real ones; some of whom are believed to be involved in importing EFP technology into Iraq. To be sure, EFPs are deadly, but from a broader military perspective, they are merely a nuisance.

In the approximately two weeks since my return to the war, I’ve probably heard about 50 IEDs and car bombs explode. This number is difficult to estimate: I’ve heard at least four large explosions in the past 24 hours in Mosul, yet I only checked the source of one explosion, which was an IED that injured a soldier. Some of the explosions are from “controlled blasts.” (Such as when our EOD experts destroy enemy bombs with “controlled blasts.”) Down in Baghdad, big explosions thud across the bases many times in a day.

Whether low or high tech, the difficulty for the enemy is not in making the EFP (or any other bomb), but in hitting the target, and so those soldiers and Marines who pay closest attention to tactics and lessons learned greatly increase their chances of survival. There is no armor in our arsenal—not even our best tanks—that can defeat EFPs or gigantic bombs. The best defense at the local level is down to simple tactics, such as knowing when to swerve and slavishly heeding instincts.

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01-19-07, 05:01 PM
Walking the Line 2007 Part 3 of 3

[Ramadi, Anbar Province, Iraq]

The evening of 30 December, CSM Jeffrey Mellinger talked over dinner with troops about progress and setbacks in Iraq. This was about twelve hours before Saddam was to hang, but that was still a big secret to nearly everyone. American Brigadier General Francis Wiercinksi would later tell me that neither he nor the current governor of Salah al Dinh Province, where Saddam was born, were aware of the impending execution.

On the eve of the hanging, Mellinger delivered a no-room-for-BS-talk, the only kind combat soldiers will tolerate without shutting someone out or walking away. One soldier was against the death penalty, but the fact is, that was irrelevant; Saddam had been tried by Iraqis, found guilty and sentenced to hang. No matter what protests may be lodged regarding the outcome of the trial, or the graceless manner in which the Iraqis handled the coup de grāce, history leaves no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a sadistic mass murderer, whose every public utterance only caused more carnage.

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