AC: Night trip to Ramadi
ANDERSON COOPER: It has been an extremely deadly week in Iraq. More than 250 Iraqis and 15 U.S. soldiers have been killed since Sunday. At least 46 people were killed just today.
Impossible to know who's behind all the attacks, but U.S. forces have launched an aggressive offensive against insurgents, including al Qaeda fighters in the hotbed of Ramadi.
Now, it is difficult and dangerous work, of course. And sometimes the outcome is not what was planned.
CNN's Michael Ware went out on a raid just last night with U.S. troops and caught it all on tape.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To strike at the heart of al Qaeda in Iraq, U.S. forces in Ramadi are punching into areas not successfully penetrated before: the militants' command bases, from where their attacks are organized.
Like the one against this police outpost, still blackened from a suicide truck bombing, in which Iraqi officers died and their American trainers suffered burns.
Army officers say there are too few troops to capture the farmlands where the leaders hide, move and meet, which included Abu Musab al-Zarqawi until his death, and now the man who replaced him.
U.S. troops in the latest covert operation in Ramadi, the true al Qaeda frontline. America's 1/6 infantry commanders seek new ways to take their enemy counterparts by surprise, to thwart the early warning systems that allow top targets to slip past U.S. raids by launching an attack with something they hope al Qaeda won't expect: an amphibious assault.
In fast moving Marines gunboats, Gatling guns in the bow, heavy machine gun in the stern, powering in darkness west along the Euphrates River, a small army reconnaissance team spies its landing with an infrared beam, invisible to the naked eye.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ground is pretty marshy. Stay put for a better spot for you guys to get off at.
WARE: And Captain Dan Enslen makes it ashore, warning his men to watch their rear. From the river bank, his platoons silently cross 900 yards of open fields, creeping into place as other soldiers around them land by helicopter or push in by road. Encircling houses used by two key al Qaeda leaders who shift their hideouts each night.
The attack goes down. But with no traces of al Qaeda, at least for tonight, in this house or those raided by other teams, a tragedy unfolds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell the females to stay. Children can stay.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, what it looks like we got here, you got obviously a family living here. Two males, of age basically, that we'll secure and detain them with us.
And then we saw the one AK. That doesn't necessarily mean anything. Could be a bad guy, could not be a bad guy.
WARE: With Iraqi army engineers, they prepare to blow a locked door searching for weapons.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief Soto?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just give me a fire in the hole so I can send it up the net.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you guys are ready.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, shots.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got shots fired. Anybody hurt?
WARE: When the soldiers investigate, they find a family in mourning. The scene is a tough one. And the soldiers are moved.
WARE (on screen): Gee, that's got to be tough.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Well, what he did is he, he stood up or sat up to chase away the insurgents with his AK. When he stood up, he saw, he says he thought it was Americans, so he sat back down and went up again and looked again and then went back down and then his wife got up to look, and when she got up, he shot her. So he says, he told her, he said, I told her, sit down, sit down.
Unfortunately couldn't make that -- what the shooter saw was two guys pop up. Unfortunately, they came back down, it was a different one, different person that came back up.
WARE: It's hard on the men, too. Your men.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. And probably second to losing one of our own, it's probably one of the hardest things that happens to us in reality. It will be a big blow.
WARE (voice-over): Then it becomes harder still.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's take him in the house.
WARE: Where a medic tends to the baby in its father's arms.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like it's just a surface wound. And it looks like the -- did they say it was a piece of shrapnel that hit her?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. From bullet.
WARE: By morning, of 22 detainees taken in the operation 20 were released. At least a dozen turning out to be Iraqi police. The al Qaeda leaders, nowhere to be seen. Unless the soldiers' aggressive new strategy pays off, the car bombs will continue. And these will remain the faces of the war in Iraq.
Michael Ware, CNN, Ramadi, Iraq.
COOPER: An unbelievably difficult assignment.
From the AC360 Blog...
Friday, September 01, 2006
Posted By Thomas Evans, CNN Producer
'Your momma' jokes cease as battle begins
We've only been in Ramadi, Iraq, a few days. Maybe it's the heat, which is in the low 120s, and a few long nights, but it certainly feels much longer.
It took Michael Ware, cameraman Neil Hallsworth and me about four days to get here. The few fights to Ramadi only fly at night, and after mechanical failures, sandstorms and changes in flight plans, we ended up spending several nights on the still-hot concrete of a helipad in Baghdad. Finally, we jumped a ride to Falluja. Honestly, I felt like we were hopping a freight train as we threw our bags onto a Chinook heading vaguely in the right direction and hoped for the best.
We wanted to join a military operation unfolding in Ramadi, and we knew our window of opportunity was rapidly closing. Even with our detours, we managed to show up at the doorstep of the 1-6 Infantry just in time.
Operation Pegasus was nothing if not complex. The aim was to hit four targets simultaneously -- one by a land team, moving in Humvees and Bradleys, another target from the air, with troops dropped in by Blackhawks, and the last, the sea team, which came in on boats sneaking up the river Euphrates.
We ended up hanging onto the back of one of the boats. The troops were equipped with night vision goggles, but we were not. As we moved up the river in the dark, I had to rely on the light from a half moon, which wasn't so bad, but it did make every shadow in the reeds look rather menacing.
After spending time with the soldiers of the 1-6 and the brigade recon troop, I was struck by how tight of a group they are. Most of them are young, perhaps even shockingly so. As cliched as it sounds, these guys act like brothers. They take taking care of each other very seriously and give each other a hard time at any opportunity.
Riding in a seven-ton personnel carrier to the boat launch point, it was quiet for a while, and a little tense, until the soldier behind me turned to one of his platoon mates and said with a very dead pan delivery, "If anything should happen to me, tell your mom I love her." I guess if you can't tell a mother joke before you're sent into combat, then when can you?
Once they hit the ground, no one made any more jokes.
It was a hard night for the brigade recon troop. They were lucky no one was hurt, but they missed their target and an Iraqi grandmother was accidentally shot and killed. You could tell who in the platoon knew what had happened; you could see it in their faces. These soldiers are like most Americans, with varying views on this war. But none of them wants something like that to happen. As tense and full of nervous energy the ride out was, the way back was somber.
The raid lasted about four-and-a-half hours, yet felt like minutes. As we waited for the boats to return and pick us up, the night had become extremely dark. The half moon in the sky had set at some point. We all laid down in a field next to the river, still staying low. Neil and I were just saying that we can't remember ever seeing so many stars.
This isn't an easy tour for these soldiers and the men that lead them -- Captain Dan Enslen, Captain Chris Kuzio, and Captain Danny Pedersen -- just to name the few that I have been able to spend a little time with. These are guys my own age, who over coffee instantly seem familiar. Yet I cannot imagine the lives they are leading, American and Iraqi alike.
As we were leaving for the operation Captain Pedersen looked at me and said, "There is no way I would go past the wire with just a camera." Truth is I am not sure I could go out there with what he has to carry.