Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Fairford's B52s bring death amid the poppies
The Times of London ^ | 3-31-03 | By Anthony Loyd near Kirkuk, Iraq

Posted on 03/31/2003 2:48:33 AM PST by Oldeconomybuyer

IT SEEMED a strange moment for a killing. Around us, the undulating desert was enjoying its brief spring window of colour as scarlet poppies blazed across the banks of shallow streams. “Kinda like California,” one of the special forces soldiers noted. In heat-rippling air, hawks banked in search of quarry. They were not alone in the skies for long.

The US special forces team had arrived that morning, pushing forward to the new front line about 13 miles southeast of Kirkuk. Iraqi forces had abandoned their positions as far as this point two days earlier as part of a planned withdrawal for the defence of the oil-rich city.

Dividing themselves into two groups, one, American callsign “Moto”, moved to a commanding slope to provide forward air control for the strikes, while the second four-man team, “Shifty”, secured a position in a deserted rectangular pit directly facing their enemy. They then set up a small, multispoked communications antenna.

Already two attacks by jets had hit the Iraqi unit just ahead, thought to be the command element of the 8th Division. Between 20 and 30 Iraqis were believed “KIA”, killed in action, as their artillery and armoured vehicles were struck. But the Kurds wanted more from their new allies, and fidgeted and chattered in anticipation of the promised late arrival of B52s.

“You say 52 come 10 o’clock,” one of the peshmerga challenged impatiently as he peered over the lip of the pit at the Iraqi positions beyond. “Yeah, well, it’s been a kinda slow morning,” the American soldier drawled as he looked skyward. It was nearly midday.

The Americans’ prey was clearly visible through their camouflaged zoom scope. Even though the Iraqi soldiers had endured one air attack, they stood up out of their trenches in full view on a saddleback ridge directly in front of us, milling around a six-wheel vehicle with an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the back. Two tethered donkeys grazed in the foreground of a neighbouring Iraqi position.

As they waited for the B52s, the US team, dressed in a mixture of camouflaged battledress and civilian clothes, talked in a relaxed way about the situation. “We thought a couple of days ago when the Iraqis first started pulling back that they might withdraw all the way to Kirkuk,” “Dave” acknowledged. “But they haven’t. They have gone firm in a defensive ring outside of the city.

Meantime, we’re trying to impress on our Kurdish allies that there is no point them skedaddling forward to take Kirkuk.”

He cited three reasons for discouraging an immediate peshmerga attack, explaining that the Iraqi defences were too strong for the guerrilla force; civilians would suffer in the Iraqi response; and that the Turks would be angered by Kurdish control of the city.

Indeed, the Turks seemed to be decidedly unpopular in this small corner of the front. Their decision to block access to northern Iraq for the US 4th Infantry Division evidently annoyed the special forces troops, who had expected to be the forward edge of a huge American advance down from the north.

“We’ve been ‘Turked’, there’s no other way of puttin’ it,” one of the “Shifty” team admitted.

“It was a lot different last time round,” another soldier recalled of the first Gulf War as he cradled his assault rifle, a veritable machine of scope, underslung grenade-launch and night visibility attachments. “At least then a 30-day air war gave the Iraqis some impetus to surrender.”

Suddenly the ten or so peshmerga sitting behind the team became excited: “52, 52,” they shouted, pointing up. High above us, all the way from RAF Fairford, the silver beast trailed white vapour against the blazing blue. “Shifty to Moto, inbound,” a soldier said over the radio. Yet still, even with the distant roar of the engines, the Iraqis loitered above their bunkers.

A curiously human moment followed in this slow-motion extinction of lives: the “Shifty” team in the forward post seemed to will the exposed Iraqis to take cover. “I don’t believe it, they’re still standing up. . .” “Why would they want to walk around now. . ?” “Go on, get down you dumb f*****s. .”

The saddleback ridge all but disappeared, and with it the standing Iraqi men. A huge series of brown clouds took their place as other elements of the B52 payload flashed white, airbursting flame above them. Then the noise came, more of a thumping sensation than an explosion.

Immediately it was back to business for the US soldiers. As the smoke and dust cleared, “Shifty” and “Moto” relayed the results of their work.

Incredibly, there were survivors. The donkeys grazed on untouched and the Iraqi vehicle roared out from the swirling smoke and away.

So the B52 came in for a second run. It took many minutes to turn. Then a second Iraqi position was hit in similar fashion. A hidden fuel store blazed, churning a black shroud of smoke over the casualties.

As the aircraft left, “empty of casks” we were told, the Iraqis responded, firing five surface-to-surface rockets at a position that they presumed to be that of the Americans. The rockets missed by so far that we never saw the detonations.The US team checked over the radio to see if there were more aircraft available. There were none, so the men began to pack their equipment in preparation to move elsewhere.

The peshmerga were delighted. Marywan Masoy, a Kurd commander, told me. “You know, until 1988 we were all Marxists here. Back then we used to see the US and UK as imperialists. Now we say: ‘Viva Imperialism.’ ”

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections; United Kingdom; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: b52s; deadiraqisoldiers; embeddedreport; iraqifreedom; northernfront; peshmerga; rockets; specialforces

1 posted on 03/31/2003 2:48:33 AM PST by Oldeconomybuyer
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Oldeconomybuyer
This is the funniest, saddest and truest story I've read in a long time. Perhaps one of the reasons why peace historically follows war is that a whole generation is taught, once again, the value of neighbors and the joy of hearing children run over the ripening grass.

The only people who can fight a just war are those who have had bellyful of it. Who can look at the blood and carnage and still say, 'it had to be done in spite of this'; who can bury their sons and still say, 'I would do it again'.

For the only way the maimed will accept their hurts and the only way the bereaved can be consoled is if we can wipe away the dark and return laughter to the world. Nothing could be more obscene than to let these sacrifices, both of enemy and friend, to have simply been in vain.

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

2 posted on 03/31/2003 3:16:10 AM PST by wretchard
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Oldeconomybuyer
I saw a video of that strike, or one like it, on Fox News. Impressive. A long series of explosions along a ridge line. All of the bombs appeared to hit on or very near the military crest.

The B-52 crews have perfected the art of precision bombing with dumb bombs, and from high altitude, at that. They looked like they were above 20,000 feet.
3 posted on 03/31/2003 4:03:21 AM PST by jimtorr
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson