Before now poetry has taken notice
Of wars, and what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?
from "Build Soil"
Robert Frost

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Crazy Troop

Today’s informant used to be an insurgent. Today, his name is Hassam. It’s been quite a while, though, since Hassam fought as an insurgent. The circumstances surrounding his conversion are a bit murky- his brother was killed by insurgents for reasons unknown, at which point all the males in his family began to support and work for Coalition Forces. Now, he is praised as one of the best informants around. The cynic might suppose that he is only working with the Americans to save his own skin because of his past. Those cynics could certainly be right- however; this informant is still on the job today despite a credible threat from one of the few remaining terrorist cells in the area to send a suicide bomber to kill him.

One of the reasons Hassam is so good is his ability to form relationships with other Iraqis who have abandoned the insurgency. His network of informants is broad, almost as broad as that of his American “handlers”. It is actually one of his sub sources, an 18-year old named Omar, that has volunteered to lead Crazy troop, 5/7 Cav, to a cache today. It’s a little misleading to say he “volunteered”- Hassam identified him as associated with al-Qaeda in Iraq and got his phone number; an American intelligence officer then called Omar and informed him that his choices were turning over caches he had helped to bury, or living in the Camp Bucca detention facility. Omar chose to come.

The cache site in a plum orchard

Yesterday, one of Hassam’s informants led Crazy troop directly to a 500gal water tank, buried in the middle of an orchard and filled partway with weapon parts and grenades. He said that tank was the only one he knew the exact location of, but that he knew there were several more in the immediate vicinity. Faced with the prospect of long hours ahead, Crazy posted a guard and retired for the night. Omar supposedly knew the locations of more buried tanks.

Buried water tank

Crazy was eager to find the rest of the cache for several reasons. One, of course, was unit pride. Bandit troop had just found a huge cache, and competition certainly exists between troops. Another, more important reason, was that in the days prior, Crazy had found several mounts for heavy machine guns. Yesterday, the buried water tank had included the bolt to another machine gun as well as ammunition. Those buried guns needed to be found before they were used on US forces.

These RKG-3 Russian anti-armor hand grenades were in the water tank

Today would not be Crazy’s lucky day. Omar lead the troop on a field run; through the orchard where the first tank had been, across a field, through a deep ditch and into another orchard on the other side. There, he pointed out a computer and an empty hole. The computer’s hard drive was gone, and the case was burned. The hole had probably contained something at some point, but if it had, the contents were long gone. Fighters in al-Qaeda are often trained in counter-interrogation techniques, and Omar was practicing a classic example. Lead your interrogator to something that doesn’t help him at all, and hope it’s enough to get him off your back.

SSG Vaughn helps a Crazy troop soldier out of a ditch while searching for caches

While Crazy stood around and started contemplating the possibility of having to dig up the entire orchard, Hassam had a chat with Omar. There was no violence- just a lot of raised voices and a swift kick to the buttocks when Hassam dismissed him. Omar would receive another call that night informing him of his last chance to avoid Camp Bucca. Meanwhile, Crazy began to dig.

Crazy troop soldiers check a discarded artillery shell canister

An explosives detection dog hit on a section of dirt in between trees in the orchard, but a quick dig failed to turn up anything. As more dirt came out of the growing hole, one soldier remarked “Every time this shovel comes up empty, I just want to punch that little jihadi in the face.” “I just want to hold him over that ditch he ran us through and shake him. He’s lost the war- why is he still fighting it?” said another.

Crazy troop dug like this for hours across the orchard

Maybe Omar is afraid. He had seemed ready to co-operate the night before- perhaps he had been threatened just as Hassam had. On the other hand, perhaps he was really a hardcore al-Qaeda fighter. The answer didn’t mean anything to Crazy troop, who would spend the rest of the day digging up the orchard with the prospect of more days in the orchard looming in the future.


  1. Anonymous21/2/08 06:04

    Ya forgot to mention there was a lot of large brass spherical objects around that area too. The "If you see us running, try to keep up" award goes to, Crazy Troop.

  2. I wasn't there for the "large brass spherical objects". The day I was out there was pretty uneventful.

  3. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/21/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  4. Anonymous22/2/08 05:30

    Heck even hunting for that stuff requires "brass". All in a days work for you guys. I've only had to hunt for a bomb one time. Not something I'd relish doing on a daily basis. Solo

  5. Scary work, this. Your pictures are excellent, TD, and they add SO much to your narrative, which is superlative... As always.

  6. Anonymous11/4/08 00:47

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.