It’s In The Courtyard: Pages From My Pocket

In this week’s edition of Pages From My Pocket: Intel

Every soldier is a sensor. That aside, there are a number of ways that battlefield intelligence can be collected. The very nature of our Cavalry Squadron was RTSA: reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition. That doesn’t just include spotting enemy artillery positions, armored columns, and reporting the grade and slope of roads in unfamiliar territory. Those are all great scout tasks but the war on terror was seeing us increasingly gathering more human intelligence. Each platoon had an intelligence soldier trained in the art of human-intelligence collection. During OIF III, those assets were taken and consolidated at the Brigade intel center. Our Troop commander had his own intel guy – but that left all of the other platoon leaders and non-commissioned officers as their own intel gatherers.

And every second on the ground not spent on fighting or searching was spent on collection. This is why the all-important leaders notebook is so valuable. This page in particular comes from a series of notes that were taken over the course of a few weeks; while on rotational duty at the Castle (an old Ottoman Empire structure in the center of town, strategically located on high ground). I spent my time at night rotating between the security positions where my men were placed, and having tea and talking with the locals during downtime. There last remaining Iraqi Police station in Tal’Afar was up there, the rest having been seized by AIF and blown apart.  But there was also an office of the KDP – the Iraqi Deomcratic Kurdish Party, who acted more as a social club – sort of like Kiwanis or the Rotary – representing the interests of the many Kurds of Turkish descent that resided in or near Tal’Afar [the northern part of Ninewah province was mostly all Turkoman / Kurdish folks who fancied themselves as their own state independent of Iraq].

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Here you see notes taken in my discussions with the local KDP; there was a few KDP men there who sent out their “spies” before the nighttime curfew. The “spies” as they called them would go out and collect info – for their own purposes I am sure, as the Kurds had their own agenda and wanted to be detached from Iraq as their own country. We paid no real mind to them, in all honesty. The Kurds were pro-US, pro-democracy, and anti-Al Qaeda. Their own independent militia, the Peshmerga, would tussle with outside agitators who attempted to infiltrate their northern towns and villages. Deep inside Kurdish territory was one of the only places I felt a modicum of ‘safe.’ The Peshmerga were also good; I mean good as in formidable [they’re who you’ve heard about on the news who have been begging for help from the West in fighting Daesh].

We got good intel out of the guys at the KDP – I would compile all of it later on and pass it off to Squadron during my post-mission debriefs. I am not really sure what became of much of the info that I passed; I know for a fact some information from one of those sessions focused on a specific pattern of activity between a mosque and a ‘bad-guy house’ was eventually used in creating a target package for that immediate area. We were forbidden from entering mosques, so they searched the suspected target houses and the buildings around it (I don’t remember if they got a contingent of Iraqi Army or Police to actually search the mosque itself, but I don’t think so – we weren’t at that level of cooperation with the Iraqi’s yet).

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There’s the target area (mosque out of sight, to the lower left)

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There’s the specific ‘bad guy’ house as seen from my LRAS

Some of the notes you see did ultimately prove true and came in handy at the Platoon level:

“Insurgents will dress as women to flee” Tal’Afar. We definitely had instances where high-value targets were captured dressed as women. We also experienced a time once when we were conducting random traffic stops to search for weapons. We were north of Tal’Afar near a town called Avghani; we had set up in some lowland, near where the road made an ‘S’ curve, because the terrain was mostly empty fields and some grasslands. We wanted to stay hidden, but also since it was an ‘S’ curve, people would naturally have to slow down. This way they didn’t cusp the hill and instantly run smack dab into Stryker’s, possibly striking a vehicle or my dismounts.

Long story short: two men and a woman in the car; the men were doing their traditional ‘oh no mister – no ali-baba. Ameriky good.’ So when we asked the woman to step out of the car, there was a lot of hesitation. We got wary. Finally after our insistence, she got out of the car, and after a brief discussion, she reached under her hajib and reproduced an RPK-74 light machine gun. To this day, I still don’t want to know where / how she kept it so concealed. (we rolled-up the two guys; she got to go free and drive away – I think she wasn’t very sure how to drive)

But in situations like this women could sometimes be leveraged. Once, while searching a home that we had intelligence on as being used to store weapons, we were having difficulty in finding anything to validate the claim at all. And the house seemed clean, yet we had some inkling that there was something not right. The man of the house was being cagey, and I was getting frustrated with his lack of cooperation (and our time spent on target). Finally, fed up, I said through my interpreter “Alright – well, we’re going to detain you. And we’re going to detain your wife, and we’ll have to take your children, too.” She was only feet away the entire time, shadowing him and looking angry. Well, when she heard that, she flipped her lid. The exact stream that came out of her mouth I cannot recall, but it was to the effect of ‘you son of a bitch! That mother fucker has a machine gun buried in the courtyard! I told him not to dig up my azaleas but he didn’t listen! Your cousin Abdul is nothing but trouble, that asshole! I told you not to hang out with him! And now you’ve gone and got me involved…’

We didn’t detain her, of course (nor would we have; just an idle threat). But part of collecting intel while on the battlefield is also knowing how to obtain it, and also how to appropriately use it.

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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