Garrett (garote) wrote,

Cobra II

Right now I'm about 2/3 through "Cobra II" and enjoying it. The initial chapters building up to the war are hard reading, with lots of faceless names, but once the authors dig into the movements of troops and the bizarre encounters with the enemy, it gets really interesting. I'm listening to it as an audiobook, with the iPad constantly open to a map of Iraq, so I can place all the city names and look up pictures of the equipment used.

This kind of surprises me, since I'm usually not the type to read anything with a military history theme.

I'm at a part where a battalion of tank drivers was asked to secure a bridge over the Euphrates river, in a city called Kifl.  But it turns out the city is actually called Qaryat, and Kifl is actually 2 miles away and called Al-Kifl.  The maps the battalion had been given were incorrect, or out of date. The maps also claimed there were two bridges, but there was in fact only one.  Bridge crossings were very important strategically, and the US expected Saddam to blow up most of them when he learned the invasion had begun, to vex their journey to Baghdad.

But Saddam knew that every bridge be blew up would prevent him from transporting Fedayeen troops, both during the war to fight the US, and after the war - theoretically when he had driven the US out - in order to quash the Shiite rebellion he was expecting to occur when they perceived that his rule was weakened by the invasion.

So the guys in the tanks rolled up to the bridge and began to cross it, and got most of the way across, and a few even made it to the other side, and then there was an explosion and the support struts on the near side nearly collapsed.  Turns out some men had been watching the bridge and waiting for some US troops to actually start crossing it before they blew it up. Saddam's idea was, apparently, only blow up the bridges that the US actually tried to cross.

Then there was a kind of boondoggle involving confusing confrontations with the residents of Qaryat, for most of a day.  Eventually the tank drivers inspected the bridge and discovered that the far side had wires strung beneath it, as if the Iraqis had been meaning to blow up both ends of the bridge, not just one.

They still figured the bridge was disabled - blown off its moorings on one side such that a tank trying to cross would crush it - so they had some reinforcements come up through Qaryat to assist the few tanks caught on the city-side of the bridge.  They brought an engineer along with them, who took a look at the thing. Turns out the other side had wires installed, and also hollow spaces inside all the support columns where explosives could be placed for easy detonation, as part of the design.

The engineer followed the wires and found that they led nowhere. Nearby were several fresh crates, stacked out of sight, containing thousands of pounds of plastic explosive.  The Iraqis had apparently received all the materials to wire the bridge but then decided - for whatever reason - not to complete the job before the tanks actually showed up.

The engineer also looked at the damaged side and said it was probably stable enough to get the remaining tanks over, so one tank captain stepped out and began walking in front of his vehicle, guiding it across, but suddenly his own tank sped past him (several people were still inside operating it), joining the others on the city side to help defend, because just then a car was spotted zooming down the road at then at 60mph.

The nearest commander had strict orders not to shoot anyone unless they were confirmed hostile, but he figured it was a suicidal Iraqi trying to crash the car into a tank so it would be pinned in place, and thereby vulnerable to rocket fire.  So the nearest tank shot at the car with a small caliber weapon, destroying the engine and causing it to crash into a telephone pole.  The car then took more than three hours to stop burning, which the commander thought suspicious.

Then night fell, and some of the tanks were asked to move through the city, trying to keep the road secure for other support vehicles.  They took up stations but had to keep moving because armed men kept trying to sneak up on them and hit them with small arms fire. The tank drivers could see in the dark, and eventually their attackers caught on to that.  One guy crawled on hands-and-knees toward a tank by concealing himself in a pack of wandering dogs.

It's kind of a surreal read. Highly recommended!
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