Skip to comments.Fairford's B52s bring death amid the poppies
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 oclock, one of the peshmerga challenged impatiently as he peered over the lip of the pit at the Iraqi positions beyond. Yeah, well, its 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 havent. They have gone firm in a defensive ring outside of the city.
Meantime, were 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.
Weve been Turked, theres 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 dont believe it, theyre 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.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.