The heat was getting to be pretty unbearable this evening. We had set up a small raid, and we were having some problem trying to establish the right location of the house in question. We were looking for a white house, with date palms in the front, and a metal gate painted blue with what appeared to be an 8 pointed star on each door. We were pretty sure that this was the right house, and we were stacked on the gate, reading to bust in.
It’s funny to see how little things, small things, can make a simple play fall apart. We had been given some information from an informant, and it seemed to be solid information. We had pictures, names, dates, places, and exact locations. We consulted, over the next 24 hours, every asset we could in the arsenal of intelligence, in order to establish that the information we had was confirmed. We could place the insurgent at the seen of the incident (in this case, a vehicle bomb); we had his name and affiliations with other militant groups. It was a perfect package.
The Iraqi’s were pretty excited about it, because for some reason they were in a good mood and were a little edgy to get moving. We organized a raid force package, trained them as well as we could to re-enforce what we hat previously done. We practiced entry drills, alert drills, and action drills. This team looked sharp, and as good as they could possibly be. From a distance, they almost looked and moved like American forces, and I was very proud of them.
At H-hour, the Iraqi’s and the team, my guys, moved quickly and smartly onto the assault vehicles. They moved well, they had all their gear on, and they looked fantastic moving up and down the streets, quietly and effectively. When they arrived near the target site, they dismounted fast, got into formations, and moved down the street, covering corners, looking at danger areas, and protecting each other like true professionals. We arrived at the alleged house, stacked up on the wall outside the gate, weapons in one hand, a set of bold cutters nearby; waiting for the go command. In my head, I was pumped and ready to roll in. We were saviors, freedom fighters, warriors out to preserve justice and enforce the law of the land, and whoa to those who would stand in our way, lest they be crushed by the forces that god has created. Silently, in the heat, we waited for the word…
Nothing. No go signal. No smoke. No radio chatter. No hand signals. Nothing at all. I look over to the command cars, and see a lot of fingers pointing in all directions. I see lips moving, and the look of confusion on a lot of faces. This can’t be good. I stand up, and ease the tension. The Iraqi’s, so quiet and courageous, bust out cigarettes, take off helmets, and sit down. This is not what I had in mind. I walk over to the command car, to find out what is going on. It’s simple, I am told. This is not the right street. We are looking for street 18, this is street 16. Simple fix, I say, lets go to street 18, it should be 1 or 2 blocks south. Well, that’s the problem, I am told, the next street is street 9, and the one north is street 22.
So, I ask, basically, we are nowhere close to where we are supposed to be? I ask, with my eyes closed because the sweat is burning now.
“No, we will find it, but it’s going to take a bit longer.”
“Well, how much longer?” I grimace.
“In-sha’allah.” (God willing).
So, for the next hour, we move up and down, left and right, house to house, looking for another white house, with date palms, and a blue outer gate. You know, its funny, but you never notice how few white houses there are over here. They are just never around when you need one. We repeated the drill 5 more times. Move, stack, look (heads shaking), move again, stack, look (heads shaking), etc. After two hours of it, we were done. My shoulders hurt, my knees hurt, my head is pounding, and my ego is crushed. The Iraqis, well they were smart, they quite 3 houses ago.
From all of this, the lesson I got was simple. I should say it was a reminder, because I knew this already, but I had forgotten it.
1. Never trust an Iraqi with a map. He can’t read it, especially if it’s in English. And even if it was in Arabic, which it isn’t, 9 times out of 10, it’s upside down. (Those of you who remember that mistake know who you are, and I won’t name names.)
2. A good plan, executed well, is better than a perfect plan. The longer you take to plan, the greater the potential for somebody to overlook something, because the plan gets naturally more complex and involved. Next time, bring the guy you caught. He knows where he lives.
3. If at first you don’t succeed, go home. Don’t spend hours looking for something when you’re not even close. The needle doesn’t get bigger in the haystack, but the haystack gets larger by the minute.
Now, I pride myself in my ability to manage the small details, execute plans, and come up with brilliant yet simple solutions to complex problems. Every now and then, it’s nice to get a slap in the face kind of wake up.