Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Mosque, the Youth Center, and the Car Bomb

In a city that lies in the heart of the Sunni Triangle is a mosque with a collapsed roof.

The roof collapsed because 100 to 200 pounds of high explosives that had been stored in the mosque blew up, pushing out all four walls, allowing the ceiling to meet the floor with high impact.

One might wonder which religious ceremony includes the use of high explosives, necessitating the storage all that C4. I’ve read parts of the Qu’ran, and can’t find any mention of such a religious rite. But then again, I don’t pretend to be a Muslim scholar of any kind. Just another infidel.

Of course, the Imam of the mosque came to the near by US base and complained that “someone” had blown up his mosque. I’m sure he was shocked, simply shocked, to hear that so much explosives were being stored in his mosque. Not sure if the Imam was detained or not. The rules of engagement and detention for US troops are very restrictive. The US commander would have to prove the Imam knew the explosives were being stored there. And, there’s plenty of political pressure on US commanders to “play nice” with religious leaders in Iraq, with all the delicate negotiations on the Iraq constitution and such. So, there’s a better than even chance that when the Imam was told of the explosives by the local US commander, he simply shrugged and walked away.

The next day, a US patrol was fired on from the building across the street from the mosque with the collapsed roof.

Big mistake.

Three M2 fighting vehicles, which look like tanks but also carry infantry inside, opened up on the building, which, by the way, was the Youth Center in town. Our rules of engagement do allow US troops to return fire, no matter what the sign on the building says.

And return fire they did. Using their 20mm chain guns, the M2s raked the building with a withering fire.

Then they called in the 8-229 Flying Tigers.

Two of our birds, flown by Captain Soup, Mr. South, Mr. Lunchlover, and Captain Coonskin, were up on patrol in the area and quickly arrived on station. They were guided in by the M2s on the scene, all of which, after the Apache attack helicopters were given clearance to fire, moved back a safe distance from the building.

You can imagine the Saddamists or Al Qa’ida inside the building, if they were still alive, got a real case of pucker factor when they heard two Apache helicopters droning overhead and watched the M2s back up and take positions far away from the Youth Center.

Bet they crapped their man-dresses, big time.

The Apaches each took a run at the building, preparing to fire one Hellfire missile each. I can tell you, after watching the gun tapes numerous times, our pilots take an amazing amount of care to make sure the missiles are launched in as safe a manner as possible. If you’re not actually in theater, this may be hard to believe. In previous wars, like WWII, the US used carpet bombing as preferred tactic, as in Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg, Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This is no longer the case. We don’t just go in and level whole cities anymore.

We had a reporter from the New York Times come to the 8-229 Flying Tigers operations center a little while back. She asked our executive officer, the XO, “How much actual shooting goes on?” When the XO responded not a whole lot, she seemed oh so disappointed. I guess her knowledge of the tactics of helicopters in war is based mostly on watching the door gunner in Apocalypse Now firing at folks on the ground, all the while yelling, “Get some! GET SOME!” US Apaches holding fire when ever there is any question whatsoever as to the target just isn’t sexy copy. She seemed absolutely deflated.

This Youth Center is pretty much in the center of town. The Hellifires are guided missiles. Nonetheless, the pilots lined up their shots so that even if they missed, the missiles would not land on any homes in the city.

Both landed dead-nuts on.

After the second Hellfire exploded, the Youth Center became deathly quiet. All gunfire from inside had by now ceased.

Minutes later, US ground forces found a car they suspect of being a suicide car bomb. Again, they called in the 8-229 Flying Tigers, who had just finished their run on the Youth Center. Again, the Apache pilots took care to avoid any damage to homes or the historical Mosque not 300 yards away. One burst of rounds from the 30mm chain gun from the Apache, and said “suspected” car bomb burst into flames. Smoke quickly filled the sky, obscuring the afternoon skyline in this unique city. Obviously, the car had been carrying more than eggs and a gallon of milk in the front seat.