As the day progressed, the 1st Marine Division quickly closed the gap between them and the 2nd Marine Division as we were drawing closer to Kuwait City. The plan was to take Kuwait International Airport and then surround the city. However, the advance on the airport was hindered by a large amount of Iraqis, so it would be no easy task and we met heavy resistance.
Tiger Brigade charged forward and immediately began firing on and destroying Iraqi vehicles that had been under observation since the night before. Task Force 3-67 made first contact when they ran into a battalion-sized defensive position. 3-67 charged forward and opened fire from maximum range. The Iraqi's on the left gave up immediately. The remaining Iraqis resisted. Two task force companies swept around the now undefended left and flanked the remaining enemy force. 3-67 pressed the attack, destroying everything in sight. By noon, we had collected over eight thousand prisoners.
Meanwhile, 1-67 was engaged by dug-in T-55s defending another bunker complex. 1-67 responded with tank main gun rounds and TOW missiles. They quickly destroyed twenty Iraqi tanks and APCs, crushing the Iraqi resistance. By 1400, 1-67 and 3-67 were back on line after outflanking the enemy, destroying fifty armored vehicles, and taking another three hundred prisoners.
General Boomer watched from the commander's hatch of his command LAV as the Tiger Brigade attacked into enemy positions. They methodically destroyed Iraqi vehicles and rolled through the enemy positions, over the horizon, and finally out of General Boomer's view. Once over the ridge, and past the enemy defenses, the soldiers of Tiger Brigade paused and waited for us to close on their right flank. As soon as we caught up with Tiger Brigade, the soldiers rolled north at over twenty kilometers per hour.
We were now concentrating on our final objective: Kuwait International Airport. The 1st Marines had reached within fourteen kilometers of the Sixth Ring Road. The airport was just ahead and laid north of the highway. General Myatt assembled his commanders at his jump CP to plan the attack. The command staff made final plans for the assault on the Iraqi positions at the airport. At 1400 1st Marines advanced toward Kuwait International with Task Force Ripper on the left, Task Force PaPa Bear in the Center, and Task Force Shepherd on the right. Shepherd swept around the east side of the airport to surround the remaining Iraqis.
2nd Marines and Tiger Brigade made our way to cut off reinforcements and escape routes to and from Kuwait City by taking up positions west of the airport near the town of Jahra. At 1600, the assault on Kuwait International began. Task Force Papa Bear conducted a direct assault, and the infantry of Task Force Shepherd provided a screening to the right flank. Ripper ran into a heavy tank force, roughly the size of a division. Cobra helicopters swept in to aid the Marines on the ground.
Everyone started moving in on the Iraqi's dug-in positions, being careful not to hit mines and unexploded munitions. After taking note of the numerous unexploded Cluster bombs and Iraqi mines, the commanders agreed to wait until after dark to continue the assault. By nightfall 1st Mar. Div Commander General Myatt was able to report to General Boomer that Kuwait International was completely surrounded and 2nd Mar. Div. Commander General Keys reported the same situation regarding Kuwait City and cutting off Highway 80 in northern Kuwait just west of the city.
The Mother of all Defeats
Radio Baghdad announced that Iraqi forces had been ordered to withdraw from Kuwait. The order came nearly too late. 101st Airborne had already cut off Highway 8 and the VII Corps and 2nd Marine Division had the roads out of Kuwait pinched. The Iraqis in Kuwait City could sense the Coalition forces bearing down on them rapidly. Allied artillery barrages lit the night sky. The Iraqi III Corps command in Kuwait City issued orders to withdraw. The Allies intercepted the radio message and a JSTARS aircraft detected a column of one hundred fifty vehicles rapidly moving north out of the city.
Iraqi III Corps commanders attempted to organize an orderly military withdrawal. They ordered the units at the Kuwait International Airport to cover their retreat. They commandeered every vehicle that would move, loaded them with all of the stolen property they had helped themselves to, and headed out of the city, unaware that we had them trapped already. Their intended route was to travel west along Highway 80, then north on Highway 6 into Iraq and toward Basrah.
The Iraqi convoy made its way through the Mutlaa pass. The decision was made to bomb the lead vehicles in the convoy and block off its retreat. General Schwarzkopf did not want to trap the Iraqis in the city so they allowed them to move to their intended target area north of Jahra. When they approached the target area, American aircraft swarmed toward the highway that would forever be known as the "Highway of Death." The first wave destroyed the lead vehicles causing the convoy to grind to a halt. Some Iraqis, realizing what was going on, tried to drive around the blocked path by taking off into the desert and straight into our path. Some of the vehicles got bogged down in the sand, others drove over the mines that had been laid to protect the area from the Marines.
The defeated soldiers started abandoning their vehicles and flee on foot. Wave after wave of attack aircraft from USS Ranger, as well as Marine Corps and Air Force, dove in on the stalled traffic and methodically destroyed vehicle after vehicle.
To the south, more retreating Iraqis ran into Bravo Company and the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. They tried to fight their way through the critical intersection. The fleeing enemy was ripped apart by cannon and machine gun fire from Marine armor, in a battle that is known as "The Battle of the L."
Later that day, after getting into our positions near Jahra, I remember having to go from bunker to bunker with several Marines spread across the desert in pairs about 50 meters apart to check all bunkers and make sure they were empty before we could set up camp for the night. Some underground bunkers were so small, they would be easily overlooked. There was no mound of sand above ground and so you could not see that there was a bunker until you were right up on it. I believe that was the whole idea. By the time we were right in front of them, we would have been in their cross hairs and dead before we even knew what hit us. One bunker that I crawled into was really small. I could barely fit inside with all of my gear on and had to remove my web gear (Web gear consists of a web belt which is holding your ammo pouches and water canteens and has suspender looking straps that fit over your shoulders and fasten to your web belt).
Once I was inside the bunker I got a glimpse of what life had been like for the Iraqi who had lived here for several months. I saw a makeshift kitchen where he cooked his food. I saw a few clothing items that I suppose he used to help keep warm on cold days and nights. I found myself looking for something I could keep as a souvenir, but thought better of it. You really shouldn't disturb anything because of the risk of booby traps. Once I thought about the possibility that the bunker could be booby trapped, I decided to get out.
As we approached more bunkers on foot, Private Alexander and I found ourselves in the middle of a minefield. We carefully moved forward, avoiding "Bouncing Betty" tripwires. For those that don't know, Bouncing Betties are mines that, when sprung, fly up into the air several feet before exploding. They don't just killed the guy who stepped on it, but anyone in the vicinity of it. Trip wires attached to these mines increased its effectiveness so that you don't have to step on the mine, but touch the wire attached to it.
We continued to move forward being careful not to touch a mine or trip wire, when something caught the corner of my eye. I saw a head pop up from a bunker. We both dropped to the ground immediately thinking it might be a sniper. I was wishing I had the M-60 with me, but I had left it with the Humvee. I remembered the Iraqi word for "surrender" and yelled, "Aistislam!" We both readied our M-16s. I repeated the word again and again until he finally peeked out again. When he did we sort of panicked and aimed our rifles at him as if we were going to shoot. He quickly ducked back down again, possibly thinking we were trying to draw him out in order to shoot him.
I got up and approached the bunker slowly, almost forgetting that there were still mines around us. I got closer and then repeatedly told him to surrender but this time in a softer voice. He was visibly frightened and knew he had no way to escape anyway, so he came out with tears in his eyes begging us not to shoot him. I kept my M-16 pointed at him while Private Alexander searched him for weapons. He had none but on him but there two AK-47s and some grenades inside the bunker. We escorted him to a EPW camp. I kept one of the rifles as a souvenir as well as an Iraqi grenade. I included a picture of Alexander with the weapons we recovered from the bunker. He also kept a rifle; the one he is holding in the picture with the bayonet that folded out. You can see our M-16s laying on the ground next to him on top of the AK I kept, while he is holding the one that he kept.
Friend or Foe?
Something happened overnight on the 25th/26th that I wasn't really sure whether or not should be shared. Some things I don't mind sharing, other things are best kept to one's self. However, I decided to share what happened in the early morning hours of the 26th, even though it involves something I'm ashamed of doing. Forgiveness begins with confession, so here it goes.
It was a long day (on the 25th) and I was really looking forward to getting some sleep tonight, but it wouldn't happen. We left the corpsman with one of the CBR teams and Ryder and I went to search for a new site. We were advised earlier in the day that an Iraqi mechanized Republican Guard Division had been moved into blocking positions along the southern outskirts of Kuwait City. We had a LAI Company move up to provide screening so we weren't out there alone. Once we found a site, we surveyed the land and radioed the coordinates back to Romeo Three. They would finish supporting Tiger Brigade's fight with the Iraqi 12th Armored Division then join us first thing in the morning.
With it just being the two of us at our position, we took turns on fire watch two hours each. We would monitor the radio in case anyone called us, but also to stay tuned to what was going on through the night. We had to conduct radio checks every hour on the hour with all radar teams as usual. Ryder took first watch which was fine with me. I was so tired I might not wake up for three days. I got my sleeping gear out and fell asleep some time around 2230. Around 0030 I was awakened by Ryder to take my turn at watch. I got up and started making some coffee because I was going to need it. I was cold and my hands were shaking but I knew a hot cup of coffee would fix that. It tasted nasty, but it was the caffeine and the warmth I cared about most. I listened to the radio and kept watch with my NVGs. There was a whole lot of nothing to see, but the radio was chattering away. I heard helicopters flying overhead at one point and also heard occasional explosions in the distance.
I woke Ryder up at 0230 to begin his watch. I was looking forward to a couple more hours sleep before getting up at 0430. I honestly don't know what time it was when he woke me up, but it was definitely before 0430. I hear him whisper, "Cpl. Lovell!" "Yeah?" "There's someone out there." "What?" "There's an Iraqi out there." I turned my head around to look into the pitch black darkness to see what he was looking at but I couldn't see a thing. "I don't see anything." "He's right there!" I'm just thinking he's paranoid again so I calmly say, "Well, shoot him." He says, "Aren't you going to get up?" I figured I better or I'll never hear the end of it. He says, "Look!" I looked in the direction he was pointing and I see someone. He was crouching down, but every now and then I saw movement. I started thinking about the nightmare I had just before Christmas and almost panicked. I grabbed my M-16 and flipped the safety switch from Safe to Semi-automatic Fire.
We used the M-16A2 which only had iron sights, as opposed to the A4 being used now which has a railing system that allows accessories such as an ACOG scope with reticles that are illuminated at night. I could barely see the target, or at least a silhouette of it. "Are we sure it's an Iraqi?" I asked. "It has to be," he answered. At this point I flashback to a couple years earlier.
We were at Fort Sill, Oklahoma to provide radar support for a tank battalion conducting training missions. I don't remember who they were. We got there first and decided to play a little war game that night. We divided up into two groups. A radar team and a team of aggressors. I was on the aggressor team. Our job was to plan a sneak attack on the radar team and test their ability defend their position. We of course had blank ammunition along with a blank firing adapter that fastens on to the muzzle. We moved out first and we planned on hitting their convoy prior to reaching their position. Then we would attack their position once they were set up and fortified.
Our plan was to drag large tree limbs across the road to stop them in their tracks. We would be positioned along the side of the road and wait for them to stop before opening up on them. Sgt Bivens was with me as they were driving up. As they stopped, we attacked. Then we drew back across a field from where they would be positioning themselves. We dropped to the ground and waited for a counter-attack. After a minute, someone started approaching us. Sgt. Bivens said not to shoot until they were right up on us. When he gave the order, I fired two shots center massed. Then a voice said, "Hey, I'm with you guys." it was Pfc. Dilworth, (Sgt Dilworth during the war), who I had mentioned in an earlier post; someone I had gone to boot camp and M.O.S. school with, and he was on our team. If this had been an actual war, he would be victim of friendly fire and I would have his death on my conscious forever.
Back to the Iraqi, I said, "Sir, what if he is a friendly?" "Can't be, there are no friendlies in this area. He could be a scout." Still not sure if I'm doing the right thing I said, "Maybe he's trying to surrender." "Cpl. Lovell, he could be plotting our coordinates and getting ready to call in artillery on us. Shoot him, that's an order!" So, I focused intensely at the target, making sure my front sight post was centered in the rear aperture sight and that the target was in front of the front sight post. I focused so hard that my ears started feeling like they were plugged up. All I could hear was my own breathing and the pounding of my heart. I tried to slow my breathing down by taking a deep breath, letting it all the way out, then another breath, and letting that one out half way. I remembered my training about not pulling the trigger but squeezing it. Pulling it could cause a jerking motion and throw off your aim. You should squeeze it so as to be surprised by it going off. I squeezed it until it went off and I saw the muzzle flash along with the ringing in my ear.
"You got him!" he said as I looked up from my weapon to see if I could see any movement. There was nothing. Not having any NVGs, I asked Ryder, "Do you see any others?" "I'm looking but I don't seen anyone else, but we both better keep our eyes out for anyone else." Needless to say there would be no more sleep that night. I was trembling all over but it wasn't just from the cold. It was adrenaline running through my body. I couldn't stop shaking for at least 30 minutes and my body ached because of it. I stayed in that same prone position until dawn. I never moved an inch, but the coffee I had earlier was filling up my bladder fast.
Once there was enough light, and I could clearly see there was no one else around, I flipped the safety switch back to "safe," closed my eyes, and laid my head down face first into my sleeping bag that I was still half way in. I was sore and stiff from being in the same position for what had to be at least 2 hours. I finally got up to take a leak and opened up an MRE. Romeo Three started pulling into our position at 0650. Ryder couldn't wait to tell everybody what happened. He bragged on me like a proud father. I have to admit, I was starting to feel proud myself. But that didn't last long.
Of course everyone wanted to see the dead Iraqi. We went out to where he laid and I was hoping it was what we thought it was. It was an Iraqi alright. A piece of the top left part of his head was missing and I could see his brains. I guess my aim was a little high and I hit him slightly above his left Eyebrow. I never realized the kind of damage a 5.56x45mm NATO round fired by an M-16 could do. Everyone seemed to think it was the coolest thing ever and went to get their cameras. I guess I got caught up in the moment of the attention and did something I really regretted afterward. We took turns posing next to the body like proud hunters posing with their game. Why did we do that? It was foolishness, but war can be stressful and there aren't many ways to deal with that kind of stress except in negative ways. I am in no way justifying it, but unless you have been in war, you have no idea what it is like and how you would act in certain situations. It's not like any other kind of stress one deals with as a civilian. When facing stress on a daily basis, we don't clock out at the end of the day and go home and relax, taking our minds off of the stress and on something else. We can't go to the gym, play a video game, or phone a friend. There really is no useful outlet, and so you hear about things like the Abu Ghraib incident, and we just shake our heads in shame. But those people are just like us, and we are just like them. The only difference is experience. War is an experience like none other.
After the photos, another Marine started searching his pockets for anything that might identify his unit or be useful intelligence. He found something that really got to me and made me ashamed of having my picture taken next to his dead body with a smile on my face. It was one of the leaflets about surrendering and you would not be killed. I started feeling really guilty for posing with the body. I couldn't help but think he was by himself because he abandoned his unit and wanted to surrender. I may never really know, but my conscious was really getting the best of me. I felt so guilty that I couldn't even ask for forgiveness.
“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness.
Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.”