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Cpl. Issac Ounda, 27, of Nairobi, Kenya, pulls rear security during an ambush early Monday outside the village of Pir Ahmad. Ounda is with Troop C, 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. The mission was meant to kill or capture four members of an insurgent cell who planted a bomb last month that killed two soldiers with the unit, but the insurgents failed to materialize.
Cpl. Issac Ounda, 27, of Nairobi, Kenya, pulls rear security during an ambush early Monday outside the village of Pir Ahmad. Ounda is with Troop C, 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. The mission was meant to kill or capture four members of an insurgent cell who planted a bomb last month that killed two soldiers with the unit, but the insurgents failed to materialize. (Drew Brown / S&S)
Cpl. Issac Ounda, 27, of Nairobi, Kenya, pulls rear security during an ambush early Monday outside the village of Pir Ahmad. Ounda is with Troop C, 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. The mission was meant to kill or capture four members of an insurgent cell who planted a bomb last month that killed two soldiers with the unit, but the insurgents failed to materialize.
Cpl. Issac Ounda, 27, of Nairobi, Kenya, pulls rear security during an ambush early Monday outside the village of Pir Ahmad. Ounda is with Troop C, 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. The mission was meant to kill or capture four members of an insurgent cell who planted a bomb last month that killed two soldiers with the unit, but the insurgents failed to materialize. (Drew Brown / S&S)
From right to left, Iraqi Lt. Col. Subhi Abdul-Karim Hassan, Capt. Michael Groom and 1st Lt. Jordan Pagones prepare to leave their ambush positions outside the village of Pir Ahmad, in northern Iraq. The ambush was meant to kill or capture four members of an insurgent cell who planted a bomb last month that killed two soldiers with Groom's unit.
From right to left, Iraqi Lt. Col. Subhi Abdul-Karim Hassan, Capt. Michael Groom and 1st Lt. Jordan Pagones prepare to leave their ambush positions outside the village of Pir Ahmad, in northern Iraq. The ambush was meant to kill or capture four members of an insurgent cell who planted a bomb last month that killed two soldiers with Groom's unit. (Drew Brown / S&S)
Capt. Michael Groom, 38, of Warren, Ohio, points out where he wants Iraqi troops to take up position for an ambush early Monday, outside the village of Pir Ahmad in northern Iraq. Groom is commander of Troop C, 1st Squadron, 71st Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division.
Capt. Michael Groom, 38, of Warren, Ohio, points out where he wants Iraqi troops to take up position for an ambush early Monday, outside the village of Pir Ahmad in northern Iraq. Groom is commander of Troop C, 1st Squadron, 71st Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. (Drew Brown / S&S)
First Lt. Jordan Pagones, 23, of Fishkill, N.Y., and another soldier make sure a radio works before they head out on an ambush before dawn Monday near Tuz, in northern Iraq. The soldiers are with Troop C, 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division.
First Lt. Jordan Pagones, 23, of Fishkill, N.Y., and another soldier make sure a radio works before they head out on an ambush before dawn Monday near Tuz, in northern Iraq. The soldiers are with Troop C, 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. (Drew Brown / S&S)

PIR AHMAD, Iraq – A platoon from Troop C, 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment and a group of Iraqi soldiers moved in under a moonless sky, through twisting gullies and down across a gravelly river bottom toward their ambush site outside this village in northern Iraq.

Daybreak was but a thin orange ribbon on the horizon as the troops waded across the river. The water was ice cold, but fortunately no more than knee deep where the group forded the river. The dark morning was cold and still.

Their mission was to kill or capture four members of an insurgent cell who had planted a bomb that killed two soldiers from the U.S. unit last month.

Intelligence reports said the leader of the cell was away from the village, but the three other men were present. If the insurgents stuck to past patterns, they would flee toward the river and the waiting ambush as two other platoons from Troop C swept into Pir Ahmad from the other side.

“The key is to let them know that we’re coming,” said Capt. Michael Groom, 38, of Warren, Ohio, during a briefing the day before.

The ambush force arrived in place just before dawn and split into two groups. One group took up positions on the downward slope of a small rise in the brush.

On the north side of Pir Ahmad, the raid started just before 7 a.m. The wail from a siren split the quiet morning as a voice announced in Arabic over a loudspeaker that U.S. and Iraqi forces were operating in the village and that people should stay in their homes. Dogs barked and roosters crowed. A child cried in the distance.

At 7 a.m., two OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopters arrived over Pir Ahmad and soon began flying wide sweeping patterns over the village and its environs, trying to spot anyone trying to flee. But they reported no movement.

“It’s eerie quiet,” said Groom, puzzling over the reaction of the villagers. “I’ve never seen it this quiet before. Nobody came out.”

As the minutes passed, and no insurgents materialized, it became apparent that the mission had likely been compromised.

It was possible, Groom said, that as the U.S. and Iraqi forces had passed through other villages en route to Pir Ahmad, someone had called ahead to warn that the Americans were coming. A flashing red light also had been spotted in the village just before daybreak. Flashing lights are a common method that insurgents use to communicate, Groom said.

Just before 8 a.m., Groom and the Iraqi commander, Lt. Col. Subhi Abdul-Karim Hassan, decided to call it quits on the ambush and move back to their vehicles, which waited atop a bare hill.

Although they missed their quarry, Groom said later he believed the mission had been worthwhile.

“It was awfully good to see the Iraqi army do a night mission,” he said. “That was the first time we’d gone out with them at night, and in my opinion, they did pretty good.”

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