Combined Operation Nets Massive Cache
American Forces Press Service
TAJI, Iraq, Oct. 18, 2004 More than 400 57 mm rockets, 7,275 rounds of 14.5 mm anti-aircraft ammunition, and one U.S. tube-launched optically tracked wire- guided missile were just the tip of the iceberg during a recent weapons cache discovery north of Iraq.
"We would begin digging in a new area, and we just kept finding stuff," said the 2nd Battalion, 7th Calvary Regiment senior Iraqi National Guard advisor Capt. Mark Leslie, of the 39th Brigade Combat Team.
The discovery began with a tip from a reluctant informant. Rumors had circulated within the ING camp of a citizen who knew where a very large cache of weapons was located, but fear for his life kept him from speaking with multinational forces.
"Once word got back to us, we began trying to get soldiers with the ING to bring this guy to talk to us. But the gentleman just wasn't having any of it," said ING advisor Staff Sgt. Ronald Denton, of the battalion's Headquarters Company.
Known locally as a fair and honest person, the commander of Company D, 307th ING Battalion finally convinced the man to speak with him and to ultimately work with multinational forces to recover the cache. "Had it not been for the reputation of Lieutenant Colonel Waleed within the community, I really don't think we would have ever found the cache," Denton said.
The information obtained, Company D, 307th ING Battalion supported by troopers from 2nd Bn., 7th Cav., gathered up detection equipment and headed to the location. "The location of the first site put us in the far northern region of 2-7 Cav.'s (area of operation)," explained ING advisor Sgt. 1st Class Robert Haney of Company A. "The initial cache discovery was exactly where the informant said it would be. But as we started spreading out, we kept finding more cache sites."
Fanning out from the original location, soldiers would eventually discover 12 sites, each within one kilometer of the original. The total amount of items discovered was staggering: 12 SS-30 127 mm rockets with launchers, 20 rocket mortars, multiple, varying intensity mortar rounds, and other various armaments.
As the soldiers began loading the discovered items for transport back to Camp Taji, ING soldiers noticed something just didn't seem right. "You've really got to attribute the success of this mission to the ING," said Leslie. "They live in the areas we're going to, so they know when something looks off. People are more willing to come up to them, talk to them and give them information we would probably not get.
"As we were drawing close to moving back to Taji, they came up to us and voiced their concerns and asked that we increase our search area a bit more," he said.
Working off the ING's suspicion, the troopers increased their search radius, moving further and further away from the initial site. Soon enough, the search paid off. "We found what appeared to be another significant cache location just a few (kilometers) away from the first site," said Leslie. "At that point, a quick look at our maps and we realized we were moving outside the 1st Calvary Division's AO into areas maintained by the 1st Infantry Division."
The soldiers secured the site for the evening, and the wheels were set in motion to get permission to cross operational boundaries. "As soon as we got back to Camp Taji, we started contacting 2nd (Battalion) of the 108th (Infantry) to get permission to go into their AO," Leslie said.
Even more than granting permission, unit, a New York National Guard Infantry Regiment attached to the 1st ID, sent elements to assist in the security and excavation of the site. "This is how joint operations are supposed to work," said Haney. "You request permission, it gets approved and they send soldiers down to help with the mission. That's Army teamwork!"
The second day of search operations revealed a much more significant find in terms of items seized as well the five individuals who were detained for later questioning. "We found so many mortar rounds, it was just unreal," said Denton. "And the amount of (improvised explosive device)-making material, and the list just goes on."
Included in the discovery that day was over 150 pounds of PE-4 explosive, the explosive favored by anti-Iraqi forces in the construction of vehicle-borne IEDs that have targeted multinational forces and civilians alike. Three heavy dump trucks were needed to haul the entire cache contents back to Camp Taji, where it will be disposed of.
"Everything came together like it's supposed to on this operation," said Leslie. "Everybody worked together in a joint (operation) that should make residents of Camp Taji and Camp Anaconda sleep a little easier knowing we have denied the enemy these tools of destruction."
(Courtesy of Multinational Force Iraq.)