Five months ago Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) infiltrated the small village of Tash, located just south of Ramadi. The enemy fighters, 70 heavily armed men were killed or captured when a small US Army patrol stumbled onto the fighters and a vicious firefight broke out.
When the fight was over, known now as the battle of Donkey Island, the battlefield was littered with dead enemy bodies and foreign weapons. Aside from the size and ferocity of the attack there was a curious observation I noted from a military brief received prior to embedding. The hand grenades used by the fighters were homemade - fashioned from plastic bottles filled with explosives and nails.
Why would an AQI infiltration force choose to use homemade hand grenades in a country awash with weapons?
During the last four years the insurgents and AQI have hidden or buried weapon caches across the country. But since the Sunni’s joined forces with the Marines in forcing AQI out of Anbar, AQI weapons caches are regularly uncovered and destroyed. A correlation can be made from the decrease of such weapon caches and the use of homemade hand grenades by AQI at Donkey Island.
These successes are directly related to the investigative efforts of the local Iraqi Police. On November 1st Iraqi Police uncovered a large weapons cache located six kilometers south of Ramadi at an agricultural region as Hamayrah. The weapons find was the direct result of a ten-day investigation that was guided by Lt Col Rafaa Hamid Sharki who is the Intelligence Officer of the Northern Iraqi Police Precinct. Sharki is called “Doc Hollywood” by the Marines for his cool demeanor and his preference for wearing dark suits in place of his police uniform.
As I inspected the weapons seized in the Nov. 1st raid, I was appalled at both the volume of arms, as well as their pristine condition. The first thing I noticed was that some of the weapons, primarily the missiles and rockets, had either English or Russian writing. Marine Sergeant January Adams said that the two TOW’s were in perfect working condition. Going so far as to point out the intact forward handling rings, working electrical caps components, and “good to go” humidity indicators – despite being buried. Turing toward four other guided missiles I asked another Marine if they would function – the missiles were stamped in white lettering that read “MILAN”. “Not sure sir, but I know they [AQI] could find a way.” Worse – no one could answer how AQI could gain access to 2 working TOW’s.
Then I stepped over a pile of rockets to get a better look at a collection of cell phones, wires, and car radios. Cpl Joseph Wiseman walked up and volunteered “This is the worst stuff”. He pointed to a set of wires next to my feet as he picked one up. “This is the trigger,” he said, which was a simple thumb depress button at one end of the thick wire. “This is the oh-shit switch, which is used as a safety by the bomber,” commented Wiseman as he fingered the trigger. I was surprised to hear that the insurgents used safety devises when planting improvised explosive devises (IED). Later I learned that patrols from last years deployment would hear random explosions, and would afterward find body parts at the explosion sites. AQI learns from their errors as much as the Marines and Army.
Several more IED safety devises were shown to me – one was even made from a washing machine timer. After setting the trigger on the ground, Wiseman told me that the same trigger devices are used by suicide bombers.
When talking with LCPL Nicholson Weston, who works with the intelligence section of Lima Company 3/7. I asked him if this was the largest weapons cache found this year, “I’m not sure if it was the largest this year but it’s the largest since I arrived in Iraq”. Weston has been in Iraq for seven months.
Walking around the weapon display before departing I noticed a black mask for the first time. Kicking at it I wondered if indeed there are fewer weapons in Iraq for AQI. Not sure of the answer to my question I was however pleased to see the EOD personnel loading the weapons onto a 7-ton truck. “What are you going to do with this stuff”, I asked. “Going to blow it sir”, replied someone from the dark – at that time the sun had already set. I thought that was a perfect close to the day – hoping I would be around to see the fireworks.