More from “The March Up”

I’m really enjoying this book. Here are some more excerpts:

Everyone in the division had become accustomed to seeing abandoned Iraqi military equipment, blankets, tents, sleeping bags, and–of course–boots alongside every highway. This area was no exception, except that here foreign fighters and fedayeen were hiding under that abandoned equipment. The Marines saw some Iraqis at 30 meters and others at five, hidden under blankets, snuggled in culverts, lying in the weeds and in ditches. Behind a low berm they saw rags and items of clothing and tents collapsed on the ground, beneath which men stretched out flat, peeping out and shooting. Whenever the Marines looked carefully, they saw another young man in dull civilian or half-military dress tucked against the earth, the camouflage crude yet complete. The fedayeen were hiding in plain sight, so close to the road they could have hit the passing tanks with rocks.

The problem for the foreigners was that every time one of them rose to fire an RPG, two or three tanks or Humvees fired back. So as the tanks roared past, they either fired from under their cover, hitting nothing, or didn’t fire at all and let the tanks pass. Now with 3/5 Marines among them on foot, they no longer had the option of lying low. Many surrendered, including most of the Iraqi militiamen and Al Nida soldiers mixed in among them. A few of the foreign fighters surrendered, but most did not–they had come to Iraq to die, and die they would. They were poor shots for the most part, some even firing from under blankets without looking. But three Marines were dead, and several more were seriously wounded, and men like Russell and Brock knew the difference between these jihad fighters and the militia. Consequently the Marines shot them in the ditches and in the field. They threw grenades into the bulrushes and shot the fighters when they ran out. They threw grenades into the drainage pipes running under the road. If one shot didn’t put a man away, and many times it didn’t, the Marines shot him again and again. The few foreigners who were captured appeared to be drugged. One in particular, a Syrian, had a gunshot wound in the chest; blood bubbled from a lung wound, yet he showed no sign that he even knew he was hit.

Around four in the afternoon, after three hours of fighting, Mundy radioed to Dunford that the firing had petered out. Brock and Russell and the others waited out in the fields for another hour, but no more foreigners came to fight. Battalion 3/5 had collected one rifle with a night-vision scope and three with sniper scopes and had captured two Egyptians, seven Jordanians, and six Syrians. They didn’t bother counting the dead.

Two things, besides the general awe at what these guys did, stand out for me in this passage.

First, I thought that there weren’t any foreigners in Iraq fighting agains the Allies until our invasion justly offended them and they rushed in this summer. I’m positive that is what Maureen Dowd, who called our invasion a Magnet for Evil, told me. No. Wait. I might be wrong. Actually, I was just told that foreigners were now coming to Iraq because al Qaeda, which apparently was unaware that Iraq even existed, finally decided that they would check out the place. Has it occurred to anyone that the guys WHO WERE ACTUALLY THERE might know if foreign fighters were present without reading Dowd’s insightful column? I’m just asking.

Also, it is again pointed out that many times one shot from our rifles doesn’t put a man down. The M-16 has been a trusty weapon for several decades, but haven’t we heard enough of this? Many suggest that it’s not the rifle; it’s the ammunition. Whatever it is, we need to fix it.

Another passage:

Sometime around ten P.M. the Iraqis woke everybody up. The first rocket hit at the crossroads with a sharp bang that brought everyone awake. A sentry near our recently scraped SUV said RPGs were incoming.

“That’s no little RPG, Marine,” Ray said. “You’d best get down.”

We were flat when the second 122mm rocket came in. For a second or two there was a whoosh, long enough to register fear, then the next bang. The first rocket seemed to hit to the left, where the regiment had its command post. The second sounded like it hit in the middle of the road. Whoosh, bang. The third hit on top of a store. They were all around us, and the BM-21 launcher that the Iraqis had bought from the Russians held forty rockets. We could do nothing but wait. Somewhere not too far away the 11th Marines had their anti-artillery radar on and sweeping. It picked up the blip of the rocket in midflight, then a computer projected back the azimuth and spat our the coordinates, which were fed automatically to a firing battery of six 155s.

Soon artillery shells were burning across the night sky, silent orange comets brighter than the stars. They chased one another until they semmed to form up like a flight of geese. Flight after flight flew overhead, each a bright yellow dot fading out seconds before impact. In all, three Iraqi rockets had hit the regiment, and seventy-two RAPs, or rocket-assisted projectiles, hit the Iraqi rocket-launch coordinates; each shell contained 108 bomblets, each as lethal as a hand grenade. The arithmetic was daunting. The Iraqis had fired three rockets–the Marines answered with 7,776 bomblets.

In the morning Marines pointed at the impact points, marvelling that a total of 140 pounds of Iraqi high explosives could smash into a congested command center and not hurt a single soul.