• Chapter 65: Still Not Over

    March 1, 2016
  • The Ultimate Insult

    In a late-night telephone conversation, around 0200, General Schwarzkopf told General Yeosock to prepare the small airfield at Safwan, fifteen kilometers inside Iraq, for the cease-fire talks. General Yeosock immediately consulted with his staff and most likely contacted VII Corps headquarters. Within minutes of his first conversation with Schwarzkopf, Yeosock called him again to report, "We don't have any forces there." Schwarzkopf was livid. Yeosock assured him that he would work the issue.

    Yeosock must have then contacted VII Corps because Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wilson received an urgent request at 0240, from General Rhame: "How long until you can move your (Cavalry) squadron north fifteen kilometers into Iraq and secure Safwan airfield?" Wilson told Rhame that a single troop could move out in twenty minutes and the entire squadron in forty five.

    Over an hour later Schwarzkopf received a third call from Yesoock. Yeosock confirmed to his commander that none of his troops were in Safwan, no one at the airfield, no one at the Scud facility on a nearby mountain, and no one at the road junction. Schwarzkopf became enraged. Why had he received reports that VII Corps had the territory? Yeosock responded with, "I'll have to check with VII Corps." Schwarzkopf demanded a written report on the matter and ordered Yeosock to take Safwan peacefully. He concluded by stating that if Yeosock couldn't take Safwan, he would send the Marines to do the job. From one army general to another, this had to be the ultimate insult. Again, Yeosock told his boss he would take care of the situation.

    Yeosock called General Franks at 0400 and demanded to know why the CINC's orders had been disobeyed. Franks explained that he did not disobey an order and that the original order to "seize" safwan was misinterpreted as to "interdict" Iraqi movement in and around Safwan in the confusion of the last several hours of the war. I cannot however, find an explanation as to why Schwarzkopf had received reports that VII Corps had indeed advanced to Safwan.

    Regardless, the mission was now to get the Republican Guard out of the town of Safwan and the Safwan airfield. Led by scout helicopters, Lieutenant Colonel Wilson advanced two troops at 0615, directly toward the airfield while Colonel Anthony Moreno's 2nd Brigade headed toward the crossroads and the town of Safwan itself.

    Colonel Moreno moved forward with one of his tank companies. Leaving his tanks in overwatch, Moreno approached the Iraqi lines and requested to speak with the commanding general. The Iraqi general came forward and indicated that he was not prepared to withdraw his men. During the conversation, he commented that the fourteen American tanks facing him did not intimidate him.

    One of the American officers replied to the Iraqi General: "You don't understand! Behind those tanks are fifty eight more tanks, behind those are one hundred eighteen tanks, and behind those are two hundred twenty six more tanks." The Iraqi said he did not have the authority to withdraw and that he needed to contact a higher authority. He said he would he would have an answer within an hour and half.

    A similar conversation was going on at the Safwan airfield between Lieutenant Wilson and the Iraqi commander there. They were polite but insisted that the Iraqis withdraw their forces from the airfield. The Iraqi officers all asked the Americans the same question, "Do you know that you are in Iraq?" Each officer answered, "Yes" and continued his demand that the Iraqis leave the area.

    Upon the Iraqi general's return, Colonel Moreno told the Iraqis they had one hour to withdraw or he would attack. The Iraqi general was still not convinced. Moreno told him that his men were eager to attack and ordered some of his M1s to come forward. One of the advancing tanks came too close and nearly ran over the Iraqi general's vehicle. Believing that Colonel Moreno was prepared to attack, the Iraqi general changed his mind and withdrew his forces.

    By noon, Moreno and the 2nd Brigade had taken the crossroads, occupied the Scud facility, and moved through the town of Safwan. Wilson's troopers secured the airfield outside the town. Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division had taken their last objective without firing a shot. They quickly began preparing the airfield for the upcoming cease-fire meeting.

  • Fighting Continues

    Just after Midnight, soldiers from the Victory Division's 2-7 Infantry stopped a busload of Iraqi soldiers at a roadblock along Highway 8. The American soldiers cautiously approached the vehicle. As they surrounded the bus, someone inside opened fire. They immediately returned fire in self defense. The firefight was over in seconds. Inside the bus, seven Iraqis lay dead and six more wounded. None of the American soldiers were injured in the short battle. Fighting was not yet over.

    Around midmorning, the Air Force reported to the 24th Infantry Division headquarters that they had detected an Iraqi tank battalion moving west into the Victory Division's sector. Then, at 1047, the 3rd Armored Cavalry reported receiving incoming tank fire. The troopers returned fire, blunting the attack and destroyed five tanks and five ZSU23-4 anti-aircraft artillery systems.

    Iraqi units continued sporadic mortar and artillery fire against forward units of the 24th Infantry Division. At 1059, the 1st Brigade received incoming artillery and mortar rounds. Then at 1104 the 2nd Brigade reported the same thing as they were securing the site of Major Cornum's downed helicopter. The firing was mainly from units that had not yet received word of the cease-fire. The erratic barrages continued throughout the day.

    Something else happened on the 1st that was really bad news, although I would not find out about it until later. We were ordered to turn in all captured Iraqi weapons because we would not be allowed to keep them and take them home with us. I had two AK-47s as well as an Iraqi grenade. On the same day, Lance Corporal Lang was removing a captured Iraqi grenade from his pack when it went off. It killed him instantly. I had an uncanny feeling the week before that it would be the last time I would see him. I was hoping that if it was, it would simply be because we would not have the chance to see each other again before leaving, and not because he would be killed in action. I had prayed that God would keep him safe "during the war." Technically that prayer was answered. I should have prayed that he would make it home safely, and felt that if I had, he would have made it home alive. Now I lost two friends to the war, just as I thought it was over. Was Satan trying to play with my mind again? Was he trying to put more doubt in my head? I started having thoughts that I may not make it out of here alive either. Even thoughts that I would be on the plane as it was lifting off, only to be shot down by Iraqis. I had prayed that God would end the war AND that I would be leaving on or before April 15th. There was still plenty of time for some tragic accident to happen, but I prayed even harder than before.

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