Winds of Change: Pages From My Pocket

In this first edition of Pages From My Pocket: Change

Notes on the changing tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP’s) used by AIF (anti-Iraqi forces) Circa June, 2005.

Upon returning from Tal’Afar, but before we moved down to Rawah, we had done a number of patrols and missions in and around Mosul. Part of that was to assist the Brigade in gathering intelligence on the surrounding areas, some of which were just too ‘out of the way’ for them to have previously focused on. So while we got familiar again with Mosul, we also ventured east of the city to a number of towns (mostly friendly, with little or no AIF influence or support).

And along with reacquainting ourselves with Mosul, we needed to relearn how AIF was conducting operations here.  There were some universal things that were going on all over Iraq [roadside bombs, or IED’s, car bombs, etc.]  But each area had their own flair, or different TTP.

In Mosul, there were a few, as this page from my leaders notebooks shows.

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 The ‘Recon’ portion lists four towns outside of Mosul that we were to conduct reconnaissance of; the fourth, ‘A’ clearly either I didn’t write down, or that town was scrubbed from the mission [Note:the three cities cited in my book are most likely Jarīb Kanash, Qaryat al Misḩak, and Wardak. All are far south-southeast from Mosul]

And as stated, part of that was understanding what was going on in the area of operations, or just ‘AO.’ We all heard rumblings around the base about who had got hit with an IED, or what happened to a certain unit or patrol. And though we had seen some fairly crazy stuff in Tal’Afar, there was a much larger support network for AIF in Mosul, and that meant new swag.

Suspended IED’s.  Neilbo, that’s all I could think of.  It was a suspended IED that killed one of my very best friends from childhood, Neil. He was a tank commander, and after surviving far more than I ever encountered he was done-in by a suspended IED. It was a 122mm artillery shell strapped to a light pole. By June 2005, I had been in Iraq for nine months. I had seen a lot and I had survived a lot. I had been hit, lost men, been ambushed, encountered every form of contact AIF had to throw at us, conducted raids, captured dozens of AIF, and had done my part for the war.  And sometimes I felt invincible, even with three months left in the tour.

But this threat of suspended IED’s scared the daylights out of me. It scared the absolute, ever-living shit out of me. Maybe it was because that was how Neil met his fate, or maybe it was because there was no way to protect yourself from it (aside from drive around inside the Stryker all the time – but who the hell would do that?) You could add all sorts of things to the sides of the Strykers, and you could rework your sand bags around the hatch where you stood. Sometimes guys even got large Kevlar blankets and lined the inside of the vehicle floor with them – awkward and bulky, but an added layer against landmines and the more-frequent deeply buried IED’s that were detonating directly under Strykers – sometimes destroying them entirely.

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an example of sandbags and other protective measures added to our hatch areas

Everyone had something. But if an IED was cleverly disguised as signs and advertisements, there was little you could do. Do you know how many bridges and overpasses there were in Mosul? I can tell you this – in Tal’Afar there were ZERO bridges that you had to drive under, and ZERO underpasses you had to drive under. Hell, the Tal’Afar arches were bad enough, and we looked far up at them every time we had to pass through them. Never put an IED there, thankfully…

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the Tal’Afar arches and ‘welcome to Tal’Afar’ sign

But Mosul was different.  Which was why I had a renewed appreciation for my own mortality and for fear. IED’s were being built into ‘boxes’ that generally were lighted advertisements or signs, attached to light poles or on bridges and overpasses. The one in particular that we saw a case study on was designed as an “LG” advertisement.  Yeah,  there were a lot of LG products in Iraq, and I saw plenty of “LG: Life’s Good” banners, signs, and adverts.  But apparently if AIF tampered with it, it wasn’t just Life’s Good – it was more like Life’s Over.

I guess they didn’t look as legit as a manufactured sign, but that’s where your perception skills come into play; one thing I remember well from Mosul was the sheer amount of information your eyes scanned every second as you drove around. It was Iraq’s second largest city. And there were wires, dirt piles, pipes, tubes, tall buildings, potholes, construction – you name it; anything that potentially could be a threat or IED – they were all there. And you saw about three per second. So, you had to scan them as you drove past, quickly do a mental assessment, and then move onto the next thing in your field of vision.

That’s why everyone keeping their head on a swivel was important – not just shit you get told by your leadership because it was repeated to you a hundred times in training. It was because everyone was a sensor – and you needed everyone on their game, and observing their part of the battle space. We needed to be on guard 24/7; AIF had to be lucky once.  And if they were – game over.

I was less worried about the ‘birthday cakes’ back then, but that was a precursor to the tactics that we would see much more of in Afghanistan (as well as in Baghdad and other areas during the Surge in 2006-08).  The anti-personnel IED.  Homemade devices packed with ball bearings, nuts and bolts, screws, glass, any type of shrapnel that would debilitate or maim. These were directed not at vehicles – but at the foot soldier on patrol.

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Pictured above you see some items from a raid in a home in Rawah, Iraq circa July 2005; pictured are an AK-47, a military style pistol belt, a soldering iron, some electronic two-way receiver-transmitting stations (for cordless phones – remember when those were a big deal?).  Also pictured are bundled cordite rods (the dark brownish spaghetti looking things by the pistol belt), a jar of marbles, a squirt gun, and a bundle of shock-tube.

Shock-tube is an explosive detonation cord (not to be confused with actual det-cord).  The cordite is old-school, actual bundles that would have been used in artillery shells or solid-fuel rocket motors.  And marbles.  What does all of this have to do with anything, you ask? Simple: The two-way transmitters for the cordless phones are base circuitry for a detonation device. The shock tube carries out the detonation, the cordite provides most of the explosion, and the kid’s marbles provide you with shards of glass as shrapnel.  A very effective anti-personnel IED.

Believe me – me and my soldiers picked glass shards from our hands and arms (and sometimes faces and necks) that were just byproducts from the windshield of a car-bomb going off. Glass does a great deal to wound – and its a simple, non-metallic item that can avoid detection by mine sweepers and metal detectors.  All of that stuff was in that bag, by the way. It’s not like we picked those from all over the house as we searched and jumped to conclusions.

Yes, it was the changing face of our war. I loved being in the Stryker, but I loved being on the ground more – inside buildings, moving through alleyways, dismounted – because you had more say over your own destiny. You could move and duck and hide and shoot – and you were a smaller target. But now it was becoming harder and harder to avoid the hidden IED threat. IED’s really scared me. And without a Stryker between me and an IED, I felt more uneasy when dismounted (knowing that this threat was abound).  I guess even if we didn’t see them used widespread back then, instilling fear after a few attacks still fulfilled their purpose: Terror.

So, when new tactics are seen, take note, leaders – spread the word and share it with your Joe’s.  Might scare them (and you) but it hammers home how important it is that every soldier be a sensor. I know that advice is nothing new but it’s one of the universal constants of soldiering.

About anotherwarriorpoet

Mathew Bocian served as a Captain in the United States Army with the Stryker Brigade and was deployed to Mosul and Tal'Afar in 2004 - 2005, and to Baghdad for The Surge in 2007 - 2008. He left the Army in 2012 and now uses his poetry as a way to heal from the traumas of war, while attempting to express to readers the realities of war. He is the recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and holds a master's from the Graduate School for Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.
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2 Responses to Winds of Change: Pages From My Pocket

  1. GP Cox says:

    IED’s tend to be the ultimate booby-trap I guess, (to put it in terms of older wars, eh?).

    Like

    • I mean, honestly – yes. Improvised weapons, booby traps, toe-poppers, you name it – if it can be used by someone, they’ve used it. Just a different war and in a different form. Well put GP!

      Like

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