As the war settled into a daily routine, the number of sorties declined to nineteen hundred. The worst weather in decades was obscuring targets throughout the area with a thick blanket of clouds. Still, the Coalition was maintaining a tempo that was unlike anything the world had ever seen. Allied pilots were settled into a cycle of briefing, flying, debriefing, and rest. The cycle would then be repeated. Occasionally new pilots would fly another mission while the original pilots rested. Round-the-clock air operations endured so that targets were being hit somewhere in theater, almost continuously. By this point, the Iraqi integrated air defense system had been rendered completely ineffective and enemy aircraft were only taking to the air to "run to safety." In a briefing I was in today, my first of what would be many, we learned that Iraq had made an agreement with Iran to harbor their planes so that the Iraqi Air Force would not be completely obliterated. Iraqi pilots only took to the air to run for Iran, some would not make it as they would be shot down by American planes, others made it safely. Iran welcomed their planes, but kept many of them for themselves. Not exactly what Saddam had expected, but what did you expect from a country you just had a war with eight long years, including the use of chemical weapons?
Baghdad was now without utilities, food and fuel. One of the targets on this day was a chemical manufacturing facility west of Baghdad. The facility was bombed and completely destroyed. In the briefing I attended, it was announced that the chemical weapons plant had been hit. However, the Iraqis led western journalists to the factory and claimed that the allies had attacked a baby milk factory. To the untrained eye, who would know the difference? To support their claim, a makeshift sign was placed in front of the ruins that stated in English, "Baby Milk Plant." What was not shown to the reporters was the barbed wire fence surrounding the complex, and the garrison of Iraqi soldiers that were guarding it.
U.S. Army's First Combat Experience
The U.S. Army ground forces experienced their first taste of combat when troopers from Troop I, 3rd Squadron of the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment (ACR) came across a Saudi border position that was under attack. The troopers went to the aid of the Saudis and engaged a platoon of Iraqis from their Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles. A brief battle ensued; two Iraqis were killed, six were taken prisoner, and two cavalry troopers were slightly injured.
By this time, some of the Iraqi soldiers along the front lines had had enough. Some began trickling across the border to surrender, while others simply deserted their units and went home. The Enemy Prisoner of War (EPW) count was now around three hundred and increasing. Leaflets were being dropped every day. The one pictured here portrays a giant wave as a knife-wielding, war-ready, US Marine. Twelve thousand copies were placed in sealed bottles and dumped off the Kuwait coastline by a smuggler from the United Arab Emirates. Copies of this leaflet were also disseminated by F-16 air dropped leaflet bombs.
More Scuds were launched today. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel were targeted this time. No Scuds had been launched at Israel for the last two days which was a strong indication that the Scud missile sites in western Iraq were destroyed. However, as mentioned yesterday, the mobile launchers remained a threat. Evidently, the Iraqis had repositioned some Scud mobile launchers to the west so that they could continue to engage the Israelis. This time, however, the Israelis were ready and the Scuds were intercepted by Patriot missiles.
Bravo Two Zero
After sunset, a camouflaged Royal Air Force (RAF) Chinook helicopter raced through the darkened night into Iraq. The helicopter carried eight heavily armed British SAS (Special Air Services) Commandos, call sign "Bravo Two Zero." They darted north over the desert floor at ninety knots. The pilot, highly trained in nighttime operations, dodged his aircraft around buildings and up and over power lines as he raced north through enemy territory. The eight commandos were given the dangerous mission of severing the underground communication lines running between Baghdad and Iraq's Scud missile launch sites in the northwestern wasteland. Their second objective was to search out and destroy Scud launchers.
At 2100, the Chinook barely touched down at the prescribed landing zone, and within seconds, Sergeant Andy McNab and his SAS team were on the ground. The helicopter quickly disappeared into the night. McNab and his men, were now lying in the quiet, blackened night some fifty kilometers west of Al Asad Airbase, deep inside Iraq. The Syrian border lay some one hundred kilometers to their northeast.
The larger picture here is actually a picture of the actors who played the part of the SAS team in the movie "Bravo Two Zero" which is based on the book that Sergeant McNab authored. The real Bravo Two Zero team is the smaller pictured here. The first time I saw these guys, I couldn't keep my eyes off their weapons. They were so cool looking.
Sergeant McNab's patrol, in the words of his commanding officer, ‘will remain in regimental history for ever’. Awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and Military Medal (MM) during his military career, McNab was the British Army's most highly decorated serving soldier when he finally left the SAS. Since then he has become one of the world’s bestselling writers, drawing on his insider knowledge and experience.
Anyway, the team waited ten minutes, acclimating themselves to the surroundings. Afterward they made their way away from their landing zone to a rally point where they would hide most of their equipment and find a secure place when daylight came. Having stored the equipment and set a defensive perimeter, McNab and his men rested, waiting for the cover of darkness to come again. Tomorrow I'll share what took place when they were once again on the move.
Things Can Change Fast In War!
Since the beginning of hostilities, the Navy had been continuously venturing farther west and north into the Persian Gulf. An extensive minesweeping operation was underway. In addition to this, patrol planes were actively searching out Iraqi vessels. On this day, an Iraqi T-43 minelayer was caught in the open water and attacked by four Intruders. The ship was seriously disabled, but not sunk. In another engagement, a patrol boat was disabled and U.S. ships chased two others off. In the predawn hours of the 23rd, Navy recon aircraft detected a merchant tanker providing support to Iraqi patrol boats in the Northern Gulf. At first light, a strike package was sent to the target. A-6Es disabled the tanker. Other aircraft sank a Zhuk patrol boat and hovercraft as they were refueling alongside.
Just to show how quickly things can change during a war, look at what the Iraqi Lieutenant wrote in his diary for today:
"Thanks be to God. Many thanks be given him. Dawn has come and no raids have taken place, at least not so far.
Now heavy raids have begun again. God protect us! I went to the [redacted] of the [redacted] brigade at the bunker to move them to another place because of the raids and heavy bombing at the emplacement. When I got there, I found four bombs. The situation was very difficult, because we had to pass close by them. But God protects.
What an awful sight: one of the soldiers disturbed one of the bombs and suddenly it exploded and the soldier disappeared and I saw two pieces of his flesh on the second story of the bunker. Allah aqbar. What a horrible thing to see.
I went back to the regiment and found the first section at another place. They had moved to safety."
Like they say in Vegas, you're luck can change that quick!
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” ― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein