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Old 04-07-2003, 06:47 AM
thedrifter thedrifter is offline
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Cool Fierce firefight to control a few blocks

April 05, 2003

Fierce firefight to control a few blocks

By Matthew Cox
Times staff writer

KARBALA, Iraq ?At 12:15 p.m. today, 2nd Lt. Joe Thomas of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) began pushing his search teams into a water treatment plant here.
?Hey, watch that building over there. I got a team ready to enter,? shouted the 31-year-old Colorado Springs, Col., native.

The two-mile walk from the landing zone in 98-degree heat was already taking its toll on the soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment. Water was low. One soldier vomited uncontrollably as he prepared to enter one of the buildings.

Explosions rocked the ground. Thomas, who commands Bravo Company?s second platoon, barked into his radio handset.

?Be advised, we have incoming mortars into this compound,? the platoon leader said. ?You need to pick up the pace when you move across open areas.?

Working quickly, his troops cleared three buildings of the treatment plant. But Bravo Company's fight to control the streets of Karbala was far from over. The eight-hour battle would leave dozens of Iraqi troops dead, one U.S. soldier wounded, and one Bradley fighting vehicle destroyed.

The soldiers had choppered in with the rest of the 502nd Infantry Regiment to relieve elements of the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), the heavy division that has punched its way to the outskirts of Baghdad over the past two weeks. The mechanized unit captured more worldwide attention today when it ran a column of tanks through downtown Baghdad.

But the 3rd Infantry?s lightning drive spared little time to clear the Saddam Fedayeen militia and other irregulars from the cities it left in its wake ? a nasty, block-by-block job left for the soldiers of the 101st and the 1st Armored Division.

On this day, the mission brought to Karbala troops from Bravo Company and the 1st Armored Division's Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment. Between midday and dusk, the U.S. troops fought a determined guerrilla force for control of a few square blocks of this city of 400,000.

Three hours into the fight, Alpha and Bravo companies moved about 700 yards to the north of the water treatment plant to a neighborhood strewn with the traces of war: shattered glass windows in the one-story, dun-colored brick houses, a fly-covered dead horse. The stench of garbage and burning vehicles was heavy in the air ? but the machine gun and RPG fire was heavier.

Bravo Company?s first and second platoons moved cautiously down the streets, but were soon pinned down by machine gunners on a nearby rooftop.

?We have made contact and we're receiving fire!? a radio operator shouted into his radio handset. He listened to his radio for a moment and then shouted back: ?Negative, we cannot move one block farther because we are receiving fire from the rear.?

The soldiers nailed the machine gun position with a blast from an AT-4 shoulder-fired rocket.

Soon, about 300 terrified local residents poured out of their homes in search of help. Fathers, in t-shirt and sweat pants, and mothers, in their billowing black abayas, clutched their screaming children. Soldiers waved the panicked civilians past to a safe area. The civilians quickly obeyed, moving past and flashing the V-for-victory sign at the soldiers.

The scene had a clear impact on many soldiers.

?That's the bad part. A lot of these people don't have anything to do with this ****. They're just here,? said Sgt. 1st Class Enrique Barragan, 35, of Artesia, Calif. Barragan fought in the first Gulf war in 1991 with the 3rd Armored Division.

As the battle wore on, it revealed how Iraqi forces have been learning from their mistakes. In previous engagements, rocket-propelled grenades have been launched one at a time at armored vehicles, drawing withering fire in return. Now the Iraqis launch volleys of RPGs, increasing their odds of a kill. By day?s end, the Fedayeen had used the tactic to destroy one of the 41st?s 10 Bradleys.

The Iraqi fighters also shot one of the 1st Armored's soldiers in his side. The soldier, whose name was not released, was evacuated and was expected to recover.

By nightfall, the exhausted troopers holed up in a school complex. There they found a cache of weapons, including AK-47s and machine gun ammunition.

Capt. James McGahey, 29, of Brighton, Mich., the Bravo Co. commander, was not surprised by the resistance. ?It's pretty much what I expected, but I didn't think it would be this bad,? he said. ?The enemy is holding their own.?

McGahey estimated that his unit had killed 60 enemy soldiers. He was pleased to see that months of training paid off, allowing his soldiers and their leaders to adapt to a mission they had little time to plan for.

?This was just guys cross-talking and coming together and getting to the next block,? McGahey said.

As night fell, the shot-up Bradley, a burned-out hulk, continued to smolder. A water truck made its way to the school. Most of the exhausted, sweat-soaked soldiers had run out of rehydration fluids.

The company of about 120 men set up security in the two- and three-story buildings inside the walled compound. Tomorrow would be another day.


SSgt. Roger A.
One Proud Marine
Once A Marine............Always A Marine.............
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