Storm on the Horizon: Khafji--The Battle that Changed the Course of the Gulf War
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In the words of a division staff officer, their mission was to see, scream, and scram ; that is, they were to observe and report any enemy activity and if threatened by a large enough force, they were to evacuate with utmost haste.
To this end, Lieutenant Ross had designated a fallback point in the event they were overrun. Should everything go to shit, a small, horseshoe-shaped berm meters behind their position would be their safe harbor. From there they would regroup and make their way to friendly lines by whatever means necessary. Ross and Gillispie had deployed the platoon in three teams each with a full complement of night-vision and spotting scopes, an M machine gun, and stacks of disposable light antitank weapons known as AT-4s.
Their position was centered around an old two-story Saudi police post that in better times had housed border guards and customs officials. This move was as much for punishment as for any tactical consideration. Davis and Jestel, who detested each other, had somehow come upon a few cases of MRE meals ready to eat on their own and had neglected to share the booty with the rest of the platoon. As reward for their selfishness, Gillispie made them hootch together their final night at the OP. Roche worked out of his own small comm bunker, which kept the radios out of the cold and drizzly weather.
It would take any attack helicopter that happened to be ready to launch over half an hour to reach their position. On the other hand, they were merely a reconnaissance platoon, which meant they were under no obligation to pull some sort of die-hard Alamo move and fight to the last. If things got too hairy, they were free to retreat with their honor fully intact. Recon Marines were trained to locate, identify, and lastly, to artfully dodge the enemy. Although Ross and the boys would be loath to admit it, this mad exposure was part of the game, part of the recon Marine mystique.
But at some point you really just hope for the best. The gods of war roll the dice, and the dumb grunts in the middle of it get to sort it out. As it turned out, the whole thing began almost like a comedy routine as Ross and Gillispie settled into the first watch of their last evening at OP 4, the early shift, in mil-speak, looking forward to another event-less night on post in the middle of nowhere.
A squeaking almost. Seconds ticked by. The noise emerged again. Ross thought, I know that sound.
Storm on the Horizon: Khafji--The Battle that Changed the Course of the Gulf War
It was the sound of tanks, killer metal beasts lurching forward in the night. One could just imagine a perfect phalanx of them, their brutal iron tracks churning the sand. The chilling clank-clank-clank-clank of so much moving deadly metal. The darkness plays its tricks. A few choice minutes into another of a thousand shifts and tanks appear as if by magic out of the night.
This is exactly the type of apparition the mind searching for distraction would conjure on a night watch.
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No, really, I think I hear something, Ross said. This back and forth was quickly becoming a case of the jumpy young lieutenant with an over-active imagination being admonished by the old salt. Ross put his eye up to the aperture of the night-vision scope. There in the haunting green light of the scope was the proof. Three tiny black dots on the move. Things started happening fast. A minute later, he told him to raise the company of Marine light-armored vehicles that were to their rear. Ross looked back into the scope. The three vehicles had just turned into five.
It was as if the vehicles were emerging out of a slight depression. With each passing minute another wing of their formation unmasked itself from the defile. All you had to do was fill in the blanks, and bam! Roche rebooted the whole system and tried again. Still nothing. Ross popped his head back in the shed and said there were now five tracked vehicles approaching. Gillispie ducked in and asked, Did you get the message off to Battalion yet? Roche knew something was seriously fucked up. At that moment Ross ducked back in and asked, What did Battalion say?
Ross looked at him for a second and shot back out to the berm. Gillispie ran over to the bunker where the headquarters team slept and calmly told everyone inside that we got action to the front and to get your gear together and throw it in the three platoon Humvees. He was the comm chief and had two other radio operators under him. What had he missed? What else could it be? Then, thinking back, he remembered that right as their watch began, the pitch of the radio static, the ubiquitous background ssssshhhhh, had wavered ever so slightly.
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It seemed kinda weird at the time. Then he knew: They were being jammed. Ross went in to the comm bunker and grabbed one of the radios to try to locate some aircraft to do bombing runs. He began by doing the standard Hail Mary radio routine to yank some air out of the sky: Any station this net. Any station … After several minutes, he came up dry.
They had no air and no comm with anybody and they were about to mix it up with a company of tanks with peashooters. Meanwhile, the vehicles, which had long since ceased to be mere blips, were rapidly closing the gap to the police post.
The growl of the tracks rolling in concert grew in intensity. The Marines of the Deep Reconnaissance Platoon prepared to engage, rechecking ammo, grabbing AT-4s, and sighting in with machine guns, fingers in trigger wells. Ross counted the vehicles again and thought to himself only a number, a number that described exactly the state of their fortunes at the moment: To force the enemy to take the offensive earlier than at the time which he had set is more advantageous for us than to sit and wait until he is fully prepared.
Capitalizing on nearly two decades of unprecedented American techno-military advancement, the execution of such a wide-reaching surgical campaign signaled a revolution in warfare. Conceived by a top secret U. Air Force planning cell known as Checkmate and its iconoclastic leader, Colonel John Warden, this air assault made use of a ground-breaking new class of weapons technologies developed in the years after the Vietnam War.
Piercing Iraqi airspace just after A. Wave upon wave of American aircraft soon thundered over Baghdad, unleashing their deadly cargo, in some cases near waiting television cameras. And as CNN floated these images around the world, the war began to take on the queer character that has since become fixed in the public imagination, that of spectral bridges, buildings, and tanks being silently obliterated as if by magic on a million television screens, of antiaircraft fire arcing gracefully into the Iraqi sky.
Thus the illusion of virtual war was born. After a week of round-the-clock bombing, Saddam was nearly blind, deaf, and dumb as his telecommunications and command networks were decimated. Nevertheless, Saddam was far from defeated, and the air campaign, while strikingly effective, left plenty to be desired as far as ground commanders were concerned.
The practical problem with this new war was that it was focused so intently upon the fat targets in central Iraq that it left much of the Iraqi army dispersed throughout Kuwait totally unmolested.
Ten days into the landmark campaign, at which point American Stealth fighters were essentially operating at will over Baghdad, the Iraqi tanks and howitzers across the berm from the Marines were practically untouched. As Colonel Manfred A. Air Force headquarters in Saudi Arabia]. The elite 3rd Armored, outfitted with Russian T tanks, was far and away the best trained and equipped unit in the Iraqi army and was often lumped in the same category as the Republican Guard by intelligence experts.
He was that rare Iraqi general who had been promoted by dint of his operational talent rather than his political connections.
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Making matters worse, III Corps posed an unnerving artillery threat with Soviet-made howitzers that easily outranged their American counterparts. My Marines are dying. After repeated appeals to JFACC, Boomer and his staff were eventually able to begin shifting more air missions onto targets inside Kuwait. After nearly two weeks of round-the-clock bombing, Saddam was feeling pinched and was searching for ways to hit back.
This development further dimmed prospects for Marine commanders, as in order to placate the Israelis, critical air missions were diverted to what became known as the the Great Scud Hunt. This campaign was an illustrious failure, and in the end only a handful of missile launchers were ever confirmed as destroyed.