There are those who still doubt that Saddam's Iraq did not harbor, train, and support anti-US terrorist organizations. I've given evidence here, here and here of Saddam's connections to al Qaeda. But there is also hard and irrefutable evidence that within Saddam's Iraq, the anti-US Islamic Jihad organization; who was responsible for the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut in 1983, which killed the CIAs Near East Director Robert Ames along with 62 other people including 16 other Americans. One Islamic Jihad training camp of which we know was located just a few miles south of Baghdad. We know this because during the Invasion of Iraq in 2003, the 1st Marine Division's 2nd Tank Battalion inadvertently ran into an Islamic Jihad training camp during their march to Baghdad.
On April 4th, 2003, Marines with the 2nd Tank Battalion were heading towards Baghdad on Route 6.Their mission, before heading to Iraq, was to finish off the Al Nida Division of the Republican Guard. And while they did render Al Nida "combat ineffective" that day, it wasn't the Iraqi's who put up the biggest fight. As 2nd Tanks headed into the center of At Tuwayhah
Half a dozen men — dressed in black, wearing black stocking masks — stood up on either side of the highway with rocket-propelled grenade launchers on their shoulders. One fired; his grenade hit Lt. Markley's open turret hatch.
The blast was deflected into the hatch of the tank's cannon loader. Cpl. Bernard Gooden, a 22-year-old from Mt. Vernon, N.Y., was killed.
That was how the April 4 ambush at At Tuwayhah — the stiffest fight the 2nd Tank Battalion has faced in the war with Iraq — began
They weren't supposed to be in At Tuwayhah at all, but the shot that had killed Cpl Gooden also knocked out the lead tank, Second Lt. Adam Markley's "Devil's Advocate", GPS. Among Markley's Charlie Company were Marine Scouts in TOW armed Humvees. Bing West and Ray Smith, authors of The March Up, were monitoring the radios from further back in the column
Then we heard the grim news over the radio.
Scout Six is down.
First Lt Brian McPhillips of Pembroke, Massachusetts was dead, shot in the head while leading his TOW Humvees through Tuwayhah
With no time to lose
Cpl. Derric Keller, manning the machine gun of another Humvee, saw Lt. McPhillips fall. Cpl. Keller got his driver to speed along Lt. McPhillips' Humvee and jumped on. He took over the lieutenant's machine-gun post as the Scouts accelerated to get out of town.
Meanwhile Capt. Jeffrey Houston's tank was in trouble after an enemy bullet pierced a fuel bladder, and disabled the vehicle.
"I've gotta go," he said. Capt. Houston jumped to another tank to keep the company going. Lance Cpl. Peixotto also jumped out, grabbing a 9mm semi-automatic.
Iraqis and Islamic Jihad fighters swarmed behind the mounds of dirt beside the wounded tank. Cpl. Ramirez, of Oceanside, Calif., went after them with the "co-ax" machine gun mounted beside the tank's cannon. Cpl. Michael Ackerman, the tank loader from Riverside, Calif., fired the 7.62mm machine gun mounted on the loader's turret hatch. When that gun jammed, he picked up an M-16 rifle and a 9mm semi-automatic.
Capt. Houston jumped back down from his new tank and ran to "Let's Roll." He grabbed the telephone housed in the "grunt's box" on the tank's rear and started talking. While on the phone, he was shot in the face.
Getting Capt Houston medical attention and putting out the fire on his lead tank proved troublesome.
Back in "Devil's Advocate," Lt. Markley regained his senses. He clamored out of his turret to retrieve his maps. Cpl. Julio Cesare Martinez of San Diego, the tank's gunner, helped restore the communications systems the RPG hit had knocked out. Without any hydraulic pressure, he had to crank the tank's turret, firing the co-ax machine gun with a manual trigger.
Without his Global Posititioning System compass, Lt. Markley had to ask another tank in his platoon to plot their location on the highway. When he realized where they were, he made an urgent radio call to Lt. Nicol.
"We have to turn around! We missed our turn," Lt. Markley yelled. "We are only four clicks (kilometers) from Baghdad!"
The company's executive officer, First Lieutenant Charles D. Nicol Jr., consulted with battalion command and ordered a halt. The battalion had to run through one of the most complicated battle maneuvers a tank column can face — doubling back on itself while under fire.
They also had to evacuate the wounded.
An ambulance, holding battalion surgeon Navy Lt. Bruce Webb, reached "Let's Roll," Capt. Houston's tank. Lt. Webb and the others managed to get Capt. Houston inside the ambulance. But the fight didn't pause for them: the ambulance driver, Cpl. Luke Holden, of Albany, N.Y., took a bullet through the hand he was holding on the steering wheel. Navy Hospital Corpsman Thomas Smith of Brooklyn took over the driving, while holding a bandage on the wounded man's hand and firing an M-16 out the window.
A Ch-46 was on the way, but they had to clear a landing zone. And that landing zone, no matter what, was going to be hot. West and Smith wrote
Two tanks and Dunford's Humvees were providing a tight protective circle around Houston, spraying the area on both sides of the road with M-16 and machine-gun fire. The attackers...didn't lack for courage, slipping in close to the trenches and irrigation ditches. And iron horse had been wounded and hobbled, and they saw they had a chance to kill it - only they couldn't close those last 20 meters. The firepower was too relentless.
Bardof and the battalion doctor, Lieutenant Webb, pulled up with the ambulance, which already held five wounded. They were helping Houston, who had stayed conscious through the fight, crawl into the vehicle when the ambulance driver, Corporal Holden, was shot though the hand. Webb now had seven patients....
A section of four Cobras was buzzing up and down the sides of the road, one or another of them peeling off to fire his 20mm cannon or loose rockets at some cement building or at any of the countless light-brown berms out in the fields....We watched the ambulance come back to our position, and after a while two CH-46s that had been circling overhead landed on the road, which was filled with dust and churning vehicles, all firing.
The column had turned around and were again on the right track, but the infantry still had work to do
Just as the CH-46 was lifting off with the medevac, Sam Mundy's 3/5 Marines were beginning their dismounted attack to mop up behind the tanks. The 2nd Tank Battalion had broken through, destroying the Al Nida Division regulars as they went, but there were still plenty of enemy fighters along the highway. Mundy's Marines still had their work cut out for them.
Mundy ordered Lima Company to clear the right (Northeast) side of the highway and India to clear the left. Tired from fighting all day, four kilometers of "fighting, sprinting, and flopping, lay ahead."
It was going to be a long day for the hoplites, but they went about their task with determination.
After 35 minutes of the most intense fighting 2nd Tanks had yet to see in Iraq, the battle was over. Three Marines were killed and seven others were wounded. When the Marines went into town after the fight they
found more than 100 bodies: Syrians, Egyptians, Yemenis and Lebanese. They were volunteers with the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad.
"There were enough rifles, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), and other small arms in that town to outfit an entire Marine division — 15 buildings' worth," said Lt. Col. Mike Oehl, 2nd Tank Battalion's commanding officer. "These were Islamic Jihad guys from all over the Arab world. We have intelligence reports that they've been staying at the Sheraton in downtown Baghdad."
The battle at the terrorist camp in At Tuwayhah is just another heroic story for future Marines to have to live up to in a long tradition of such stories.
But it also another example of why we went to war in Iraq to begin with.
And its also the story of yet one more terrorist training camp removed, roots and all.