Troops hope persistence in night raids will pay off
Stars and Stripes
The soldiers creep up on the house in the dead of the night.
The house, in an isolated farming district south of Baghdad’s Green Zone, belongs to the brother of a wanted insurgent named Ziyad. The soldiers with Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment have been looking for Ziyad for months.
“He’s a known IED [improvised explosive device] emplacer, kidnapper and murderer,” says 1st Lt. Matt Sheftic, 26, of Essex Junction, Vt., the troop’s executive officer.
A group of soldiers escorts the inhabitants outside, while others fan throughout the small, mud-brick structure, looking for weapons and items that might tip them to Ziyad’s whereabouts.
Spc. Wesley Russell, 20, pulls an AK-47 rifle from a darkened back room. Using a pocketknife, he inscribes the grid coordinates of the house’s location on the weapon’s buttstock. Although Iraqis are allowed to keep one AK-47 in their house for personal protection, the soldiers with Bravo Troop routinely mark all of the weapons they come across. That way, if they revisit a location, they’ll know which weapons belong there.
This isn’t the first time that Bravo Troop has raided the house looking for the wanted man. They have a good idea what his brother is going to say.
“In a few minutes, Lt. Hayes is going to bring the brother inside, and he’ll tell us that Ziyad is in Syria or something,” Sheftic explains.
The brother is escorted back inside. Lt. Willard Hayes, 24, of Missoula, Mont., begins to question him and sure enough, he says Ziyad is in Syria. He hasn’t seen him for months.
Then the man is asked about reports that masked men had set up an illegal checkpoint at the village school. There, they had shot a woman and her child to death.
The man says that no one was killed in the village that day.
“About 15 people say otherwise,” Hayes says.
“There was no checkpoint at the school yesterday,” the man insists.
Sheftic asks the suspected insurgent’s brother when he last saw masked men in the village.
“About three or four days ago,” the man says.
Sheftic then asks why he didn’t call and alert U.S. forces to their presence. “I’ve been here three or four times and have given him my cell phone number each time,” he says, speaking through a translator.
The man says insurgents killed his cousin because they thought he’d provided information to the Americans. He says if he does call the Americans, the insurgents will be able to tell by looking at his cell phone.
“Tell him he can call us or text message us and then erase it, and they’ll never know,” Hayes tells the interpreter. “That’s not an excuse.”
The suspected insurgent’s brother keeps insisting that he’s too afraid to provide any information.
“He’s definitely dirty,” says Sheftic. “All three brothers are connected to the insurgency in some way. But most of the reports we have are on Ziyad.”
But experience has shown that if one member of a family is active in the insurgency, then others usually are, too.
“I don’t think we’ve found one exception to that rule yet,” he says.
At a house down the road, the troops question an old man, his son and a daughter about the presence of insurgents in Adiwaniya and the report of the previous day’s killings.
The old man says he knows nothing. He’s never seen masked men in the village or anyone burying anything in the canal bank behind his house.
Hayes points out that during a previous raid, the soldiers discovered an SKS rifle, with a homemade silencer and a Belgian-made night sight buried back there. The old man claims to know nothing.
What does the old man know about the illegal checkpoint and the killing of the woman and her child?
Again, the old man says there was no checkpoint and that no killing took place.
Hayes warns the man, through an interpreter: “Tell him I’m going to bring the females in and question them, and tell him that if they tell me anything different, I’m bringing him in.”
The old man asks if he can smoke.
“No, you can’t smoke,” Hayes says.
The old man’s young son, who appears to be about 12 years old, is brought in first. At first, he says he was tending to the cows out in the fields and spoke to nobody all day
“Kid, look at me,” Hayes says. “There is no way you went through a whole day and didn’t talk to anyone.”
The kid finally admits that he played soccer later in the day with friends. He says he knows nothing about the masked men at the school or the killing, but he finally admits that he heard gunfire around 11 p.m.
The man’s youngest daughter, who appears to be in her mid- to late teens, is brought in.
“Tell her she has one chance,” he says to the interpreter, explaining that if she lies, her father is going to jail.
The girl, too, claims to know nothing about the checkpoint or the killing. But she admits to hearing gunfire the previous night around 10 p.m.
A soldier comes into the room and says that they’ve searched the canal behind the house, but have found nothing. Hayes decides to move on.
But first a psychological operations soldier hands the man a flier, explaining that coalition forces have a reward program for anyone who provides information that leads to the discovery of IEDs or weapons caches. The old man takes the flier and folds it in one hand. In the dim glow of a flashlight, he appears to be smiling faintly.
Hayes has a final word: “Tell him I know he’s lying,” he says, to the interpreter. “And tell him that it’s because of guys like him that a woman and her child were killed yesterday. Tell him that unless he starts working with us, it’s only going to get worse.”
The man says nothing and continues to smile. After the soldiers leave and are moving across the yard, the old man walks to the door and lights a cigarette. Sheftic yells at him to sit down like he was told. The old man turns and shuffles back inside.
The pre-dawn raid Friday was a typical one for Bravo Troop. For the past 11 months, they’ve been chasing insurgents in Adiwaniya, often with mixed results.
The two houses were among nine locations that were searched in the village that night, all known to be frequented by insurgents. It’s not the first time that the troops have visited any of them, and it won’t be the last.
As long as they keep returning, Sheftic says, sooner or later the enemy is going to slip up.