On Route Michigan
RAMADI, IRAQ: In war, the ability to adapt to the enemy's tactics is crucial to maintaining the initiative. The insurgency in Iraq does not have the ability to defeat the Coalition using conventional means; in every engagement at the platoon size or greater, the insurgency has been thoroughly defeated. Because of this, the insurgency adapted its tactics and is relying on a political defeat of the largest Coalition partner, the United States, to achieve victory.
The two main tactics the insurgency has used are suicide bombs, which almost exclusively are executed by al Qaeda in Iraq, and Improvised Explosive Devices. The suicide bombs make for stories of carnage and chaos, but often evoke a backlash from the Iraqi people and rarely kill American troops. IEDs, however, are the main cause of casualties among U.S. personnel. The insurgency's hope is the steady trickle of deaths and injuries from IEDs will erode the will of the American public and cause the government to prematurely withdraw from Iraq.
The sophistication of the enemy IEDs has increased since their introduction after the fall of Saddam's government in the spring of 2003. And so has the knowledge of the U.S. military's IED hunters and the sophistication of their equipment.
One such IED hunting team is Dagger V of Task Force 54, which is comprised of Bravo Company, 54th Engineers from Bamberg, Germany, and various attached units. The main missions of Task Force 54 are to provide convoy escort duty, and clear roadways of IEDs and disarm them. Task Force 54's area of operations is vast, spanning from the Syrian border to Fallujah.
The troops assigned to Task Force 54 are the perfect example of the adaptability of the U.S. military serving in Iraq. A good chunk of the equipment they trained on was left behind in Germany. Upon their arrival in country just weeks ago, they were trained to operate equipment such as the RG-31 and the Cougar, both specialized armored personnel carriers, and the Buffalo, which has a mechanical arm with a "claw" that can extend to sixteen feet to into the ground and interrogate and disable suspected IEDs.
These vehicles were selected for their survivability. Their unique v-shaped hulls are designed to deflect the blast impact from roadside bombs, and they are heavily armored.
I joined Lieutenant Colonel Shawn McGinley, the commander of Task Force 54, on a platoon-sized patrol to clear IEDs on Route Michigan, a stretch of road that bisects Ramadi and is the main route for military convoys.
LtCol McGinley described the road "as the most dangerous place in Ramadi, perhaps Iraq" , and the view of the street gives good credence to this belief. Route Michigan looks like a war zone, with destroyed facades of buildings, broken water and sewer lines dispensing their fluids into the streets, potholes in the streets and sidewalks from IED blasts and mortar fire, and barricades blocking the entrances from the side streets. Two armored Bradleys were destroyed here, and the track wheel rims were in full view as evidence. LtCol McGinley stated all of the damage has occurred since the fall of Saddam, and much of the heavy damage was caused by IEDs detonated by the insurgency.
We rode on the Buffalo, which comfortably seats six. The convoy was a mix of the Buffalo, RG-31s, Cougars, and up-armored Hummers. The engineers were visually searching for IEDs, and the vehicles crawled down Route Michigan at five miles per hour, with lights blazing, in an attempt to spot the bombs.
About halfway into the mission, the lead RG-31 spotted a large burlap bag near the center median of the road. The Buffalo moved in, the arm was extended, and the claw was used to interrogate the bag. They quickly discovered this was indeed an IED, made up of two 122mm artillery shells, a two liter bottle of gasoline, and the remote controlled detonating device. The IED was quickly disabled by the crew of the Buffalo and the rounds were prepared for detonation.
Further down the road, the body of an insurgent planting an IED was in full view on Route Michigan. He was killed by sniper fire just prior to the patrol.
The patrol completed its mission with no other incidents. It was a quiet night for this platoon. Another platoon discovered and disabled three IEDs elsewhere in the city.