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Air Reaction Force (ARFs) missions are conducted on very short notice to go after specific targets. Typically soldiers designated to conduct the missions wait patiently through the evening with their equipment ready. When word comes down that a target has been identified, which could be a site or individual at a site, a plan is hastily put together and 22 soldiers make their way to the airfield and the waiting helicopters. The helicopters transport the soldiers to the target and hopefully a productive outcome.
|Richard Rubright Photos
This large chicken coop housing thousands of chickens was designated a suspicious site by military intelligence.|
ARFs can be very dangerous. Typically the target is one where enemy fighters are expected to be; that of course is the point. The raids tend to be fast and directed at a very limited objective such as a few houses. ARFs always have air cover to supply plenty of support and firepower due to the small number of soldiers involved with the operation.
On a Friday night in late March, soldiers from Troop A 2nd Squadron 1st Cavalry Regiment were waiting for a target. After hours of waiting it appeared as though no suitable target would present itself. It was getting late and there was a general sense that the night would end without a mission and everyone would get a good night of sleep.
At the same time I was thinking about bed, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), much like the ones I talked about last week, spotted three men placing an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in a culvert that ran under a road. Two of the men took off on a motorcycle leaving the third man. The third man was wounded a short time later by a US missile. The two men that drove off on the motorcycle were patiently watched.
The motorcycle went to a nearby town and then moved on to a building in a rural area a short time later. The movement was all quietly watched and recorded by the UAV flying silently overhead. The building that it stopped at was a large chicken coop (literally housing thousands of chickens) which had been noted as a suspicious building in the past due to the amount of traffic that stopped there. 2-1 had their target.
The call came down that we were to move out as quickly as possible to assault the building and it was hoped to catch the guys who were planting IEDs as well as maybe find a weapons cache. In short order 22 of us were loading on Blackhawk helicopters in the dark; engines screamed and the helicopters rose into the air and headed for the chicken coop.
Within seconds of the helicopters landing we piled out and were promptly informed by a Kiowa scout helicopter that two men were fleeing from the building. They apparently ran into a field and laid down hoping that they wouldn’t be found. With a laser that can be seen with night vision goggles, they pointed out the two men in the field who were quickly apprehended by one of the teams on the ground.
The other team approached the chicken coop and detained two more men who came out after a strong recommendation through the interpreter. Sitting right outside the front door of the chicken coop building was the motorcycle that had been carefully tracked from the position where the IEDs were emplaced all the way to the chicken coop.
It was immediately apparent that something was very wrong. Not only the fact that the two men ran as soon as the helicopters showed up, but the men who were detained claimed they knew nothing of any motorcycle. When it was pointed out that the motorcycle was in fact in plain view of them, in front of the house they were in and no more than 30 feet from where they lay handcuffed, they continued to maintain that they had no idea where it came from. Not exactly the strongest alibi but surely the simplest they could come up with.
The coop was searched and since the men were unwilling to come up with even the most basic and reasonable explanation all four were detained and rode back with us aboard the helicopter.
We didn’t find out until later that one of the two men who had run was listed as the number one target for the Brigade which covers all of Diyala province. The second man who had run was wanted by a different Brigade outside of Diyala for being a corrupt Iraqi Police officer responsible for sectarian violence and was considered a high value target. The two men that were found in the chicken coop admitted to being the ones who were placing the IEDs in the area.
It should be noted again how this operation came about. Last week I talked about UAVs and how they are an incredible technical asset to the effort here in Diyala province; this story is another prime example. The entire effort was the result of a UAV looking at a stretch of road. Not only was the location of an emplaced IED identified, which could very likely have saved the lives of US soldiers, the UAV was able to track a bad guy to others as well as severely wound one of the insurgents placing the IED. The intelligence that flowed from IED allowed the raid to take place, and the capture by members of Troop A 2nd Squadron 1st Cavalry Regiment.
The argument could be made that they were lucky, but from my perspective it is more a case of them being good. The reaction was fast, the intelligence timely and the result a tribute to the professionalism of Captain Murphy and his men.
|This motorcycle was used by the two men to take them to a rural area.|
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