A constant search for weapons caches
January 22, 2005
ABU GHRAIB, Iraq — When Pfc. Jimmy Giron of Company B, 27th Engineer Battalion, found a weapons cache in the front of a house recently, his buddies said it seemed as if he’d witnessed the birth of his child.
“You should have seen the look on his face when he pulled those mortars out of the bag,” said 1st Lt. Daniel Hurd, 1st Platoon leader with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment. “It was priceless.”
The platoon, along with their assigned soldier from the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based engineer battalion, is on a nearly constant hunt for weapons caches in this troubled city, which is just north of Baghdad International Airport.
Giron’s find contained seven 60 mm mortars, one 82 mm mortar, eight mortar fuses, shotgun shells, papers with technical data for accurately firing the mortars and a remote control garage door opener which soldiers believed would have been used to trigger roadside bombs.
The tools of Abu Ghraib insurgents’ trade include assault rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, artillery shells and mortars — especially mortars.
The U.S. base nearest to this mainly Sunni city is Logistic Base Seitz, which sits at the very northwestern tip of Camp Liberty, the largest single contingent of U.S. troops in Baghdad.
Seitz is frequently mortared from the town, and one attack in January 2004 killed one U.S. soldier and injured about three dozen more U.S. soldiers and civilians.
The town’s main streets are also popular spots for roadside bombs, one of which killed Spc. Dwayne McFarlane Jr. on Jan. 9.
On Wednesday, Giron was on the hunt again, rooting though small fenced-in yards at a rundown apartment complex. Scanning the ground with his detector, he occasionally stopped to insert a metal probe into the earth. If he strikes something solid, he’ll dig it up.
Giron said the insurgents like to place the caches under such items as piles of dirt, sand and garbage. “There’s dirt everywhere and garbage everywhere,” said Giron about Abu Ghraib. “[Caches] could be anywhere, sometimes the last place you expected. You’ve got to be lucky, I guess.”
Most of the caches aren’t very large and are meant for easy access.
“[Insurgents place] short-term caches here,” Hurd said. “There’s lots of yards available for short- term caches. You’ll find stuff [buried] only an inch deep.”
Despite the large amount of ground Giron and the platoon cover, they have been fairly successful.
“In the past couple of weeks, we’ve found three caches,” Hurd said, explaining that they’ve only been assigned to the sector for two weeks.
Hurd said that they expect the caches to become harder to find as time passes. “They know what we’re looking for, so they’ll get more complex [in hiding them],” he said. “They’ll adjust.”
But if the insurgents have to bury their caches deeper in the ground, or in less accessible areas, it might take them longer to recover and use them. With other companies from 2-14 also operating in Abu Ghraib, this extra time may mean that more insurgents are caught in the act of hiding or digging up caches.
Hurd said they want to get as much as they can. Earlier in the patrol he had tried to talk some kids into trading mortars for his pocketful of candy. “It’s like an Easter egg hunt,” he said.
Easter eggs, however, don’t explode during normal use.