TASK FORCE 5-20 INFANTRY REGIMENT
OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM 06-07
"TO THE LIMIT"
In February 2006, the Sykes’ Regulars Battalion deployed to the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California, to execute its mission rehearsal exercise (MRE) in preparation for a June deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Regulars were evaluated on their preparations, administrative and logistics operations, and the forging of relationships with simulated Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and civilians on the battlefield. Following the highly successful exercise, the Battalion returned to Fort Lewis and prepared its vehicles and personnel for deployment. In the course of events, the unit’s Strykers received special armor upgrades dubbed by Soldiers as "bath tub armor" and an improved Remote Weapon Station (RWS) that included a laser designator, color RWS screen, and a zoom feature for the thermal imaging module.
Arriving in Kuwait in the late part of June, the Regulars completed preparing their vehicles and equipment for combat and then conducted training focused on sustaining the proficiency they had attained during training at Fort Lewis and the NTC. Unexpectedly, Rock Company was detached from the Battalion and attached to 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment. Due to the ever-worsening sectarian violence in Baghdad, the company found itself moving from Kuwait and to FOB Falcon, located in Southern Baghdad’s Al Doura district, while the remainder of the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment moved north into the city of Mosul.
The Battalion flowed into FOB Marez during the last week of July and assumed responsibility for Western Mosul. The two rifle companies, Attack and Battle, divided that portion of the city and immediately established partnerships with the Iraqi Army (IA) and Iraqi Police (IP) units stationed there. With the absence of Rock Company, Hound Company, consisting of the Scout and Mortar platoons, took on the role of controlling the area south of Mosul where it primarily conducted operations in the town of of Hammam Al Alil. Understanding the necessity of improving the Iraqi Security Force (ISF) capabilities, the Regulars established "Sykes’ Academy" and implemented a training program that sharpened the fighting skills of their ISF counterparts. Within a short time, the IA and IP were conducting successful unilateral
operations throughout the city. Their improvement and confidence were direct reflections of the Battalion and its Soldiers’ efforts and dedication to improve the security situation in Northern Iraq. The Battalion’s time in Mosul was highlighted by its success in maintaining control of western Mosul, but also marked by the loss of its first Soldier, CPL Casey Mellen, to enemy fire.
Meanwhile in Baghdad, Rock Company was taking part in a stability and security plan in al Doura neighborhood, an area plagued by sectarian violence. Working with the Soldiers of 1-14 CAV, Rock Company immediately implemented measures to clear the area of insurgents, sectarian militias, and corrupt police officials. In a matter of months, Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) activity significantly decreased, deaths due sectarian violence dropped sharply, and the markets and businesses began to thrive once again.
In November 2006, Task Force Regulars received a change of mission that entailed spearheading the Brigade’s movement and moving the Battalion south to Camp Taji where it would serve as a strike force element for the Multi-National Division-Baghdad (MND-B). In addition, the Arrowhead Brigade received the task of providing a Battalion-sized Stryker Ready Force (SRF) with a mission of providing support anywhere in Iraq within 48 hours of notification. When not filling this role, Task Force Regulars assisted in the Baghdad Security Plan, supporting local land-owning Coalition Force units by conducting systematic neighborhood "clear and hold" operations and helping quell the sectarian violence. In addition to a new location and mission set, Task Force Regulars welcomed Bronco Troop, 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment to its task organization.
On the last days of November 2006, the Regulars arrived at Camp Taji and immediately received a mission to conduct a search and recovery of a downed US Air Force F-16 pilot, whose aircraft had crashed in the al Anbar Province. This area of operations was more restive and violent than the Regulars’ previously assigned areas. The Battalion rapidly and aggressively moved into a region that the land-owning unit of the 1st Cavalry Division had never ventured. Although the Battalion did not locate the pilot, the presence of hundreds of Regulars and their Strykers in an area previously void of Coalition activity disrupted the enemy and set the conditions for other units to operate there . During the operation, the Regulars found evidence of sectarian violence, detained several Sunni insurgents, and gained insight into the tactics of the enemy; however, it also suffered the loss of CPL Billy Farris from a Deep-Buried IED (DBIED). As the mission ended, the Regulars returned to Camp Taji and began preparing for Operation Diamondback, a mission that placed the Battalion under the control of the 2nd IBCT, 2nd Infantry Division, and marked the first time since the Korean War that the two Warrior Division Brigades had conducted combat operations together.
Over the course of the next few months, the Battalion continued to play a vital role in the Baghdad Security Plan. Along with the other elements of the Arrowhead Brigade, the Battalion participated in a series of operations that carried the name of Arrowhead Strike. Each operation focused on a different Baghdad neighborhood, and by the end of February, the Battalion had conducted clearing operations in the neighborhoods of Rusafa, New Baghdad, Adamiyah, al Doura, Shaab, and Ur. During these clearing operations and through targeted raids, the Battalion captured nearly a dozen Brigade or higher-level High-Value Individuals (HVIs) and destroyed nearly 40 insurgent fighters, inflicting the greatest damage on the enemy during Battle Company’s recovery of the crew from a downed Blackwater Security helicopter. Throughout this wide spectrum of operations, the Battalion demonstrated the Coalition’s resolve and commitment to restoring security in the city by effectively reducing sectarian tensions and, more importantly, helping foster the confidence of local Iraqis in the ISF.
A Commander’s Perspective
On 23 JAN 07 Battle Company, 5-20 IN was tasked to respond to a downed Blackwater Little Bird aircraft on Route Wild in eastern Baghdad. Battle Company found four KIA US contractors (Blackwater personnel) on Route Wild and the aircraft two blocks off the main route on top of a roof in a dense Muhalla. Battle Company quickly secured the bodies and the crash site, conducted link up with Blackwater personnel at the site to hand over recovery responsibilities, and were preparing to depart when a Battle Company Squad Leader had two rounds of PSAF impact against a wall within one foot of his position. Battle Company responded with sniper and 240B fire at the likely PSAF origin to cover withdrawal. At that point, multiple enemy positions opened up with medium machine guns. Battle Company responded with fierce RWS fire, firing literally every RWS in the Company at those locations. In the midst of the sustained gunfire, the Platoon Leaders were attempting to call up their positions and enemy disposition but the extreme volume of fire drowned out most radio transmissions (approximately 35 .50 cal machine guns were fired during the fight; 17 from B/5-20, 10 from 1-26, 3-5 from Blackwater, and 4-6 from MiTT). I was going to move to my platoon leaders until I looked at the concrete building to the rear of my position – it was crumbling and creating ricochets in all directions, to include into the back of my Stryker from 30-40 feet away. Live power lines were whipping back and forth from telephone poles. Burning pieces of debris were falling into Stryker hatches and temporarily setting bits of clothing and bench padding on fire. Friendly muzzles were sticking out of every window, doorway, and alley way I could see. I decided that an attempt at face to face coordination with my platoon leaders was imprudent. The platoons were facing a much larger enemy that I realized. Fortunately, the Platoon Leaders responded as they had been trained – they coordinated with each other on the ground, splitting up security responsibilities, determining likely or known enemy locations, and planning COA’s to defeat the enemy. An approximately 10 inch thick wall behind which platoon members were shooting from was pulverized by an enemy weapon system, most likely a vehicle mounted Dishka. The wall ended up collapsing on several Soldiers, knocking one out who had to be drug from the location. The platoons engaged two machine gun positions with AT4’s and followed up with M203 HEDP, immediately stopping any further fire from those positions. They also shot multiple individuals with weapons moving between buildings in alleyways. They had a solid understanding that they were facing a threat of approximately 20-40 personnel with at least one heavy machine gun and multiple medium machine guns.
The Company FSO had managed to get confirmation that none of the platoons were on the enemy’s side of the street, therefore meeting the MSD for Hellfire. The FSO requested Hellfire but he believed he heard the Battalion CDR deny the request (this was later found to be untrue but again the volume of fire made hearing difficult). The FSO had also determined visually that none of the 1-26 IN or Blackwater personnel were on the enemy’s side of the street - there was no common communications platform to determine audibly. At my location, the 1-26 IN S3 asked me what I was planning and I replied that I was planning on clearing the buildings. The S3 said "roger". However, after 3-4 more sustained engagements with no apparent movement by either side, the S3 advised me against clearing the buildings and requested that I exfil the Company. Believing the area to be in 1-26 IN battlespace, as well as having gained no greater situational understanding and still holding the belief that there really wasn’t much if any threat, I agreed. We departed the location with minimal injuries due to the wall collapsing, but no friendly WIA.
On 10 March 2007, the Battalion received the directive to move 30km north into the Diyala Province and, specifically, the embattled city of Baqubah. During the autumn of 2006, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQIZ) had taken over the city. Musab al Zarqawi claimed the city as the "capital" of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and enforced the harsh Sharia Codes. In their effort to secure Baqubah and prevent Coalition intervention, the AQIZ fighters fortified the city by establishing fighting positions and emplacing hundreds of surfaced-laid and deep-buried IEDs. As it arrived in Baqubah, the Task Force came under the control of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division and assumed a mission that would entail the detailed clearance of the city and its palm groves, the reinstatement of the elected government, and the restoration of vital infrastructure destroyed or damaged during the fighting.
Welcome To Baqubah
We came into Buhriz on the morning of the 14th of March, less than 24 hours after arriving in Baqubah from Baghdad. There is only one road through Buhriz—RTE GOLD. Red and White Platoons moved down the route, while HQ, Blue and Mortars met with the scouts of 1-12 CAV at the Buhriz Iraqi Police Station (BIP). Within minutes of arriving, a nearby explosion. The radio crackled then another explosion. AK and PKC fire. The radio spoke again. First White, then Red had struck IEDs only a few hundred meters from BIP. Some concussions, minor damage, some slat blown off the truck, still in the fight. Small arms and automatic weapons fire. Engaging. Less then 20 minutes after it began, our right-seat ride was over. Within minutes the remainder of the Troop rolls into the fight. Our heavy broadside of crew-served weapons, .50’s, MK19’s, and 240B’s, quickly quenches the enemy’s fire only for it to reignite moments later from one then two then three new locations. A pair of 130mm artillery rounds with a blinking Motorola taped on blocks the road at a bridge crossing over a large canal. Whoosh! BOOM! An RPG flies overhead and impacts a few meters from a Stryker. We engage a group of men in black masks with an RPG launcher. We borrow a tank section and a Bradley from Bone Company 1-12 CAV, who over the next few days would become our brothers. Another RPG. The jihadists run into a house. The tank section engages with 10 rounds of HEAT. The front of the house collapses and burns. A pair of Apaches come overhead. More men in black are moving towards us. EOD arrives and the robot, "Hamudi" to the Iraqis, moves to the IED. Mortar rounds impact within 10 meters of the leading trucks. One round is a dud and lies next to the road. An insurgent in a house only meters away throws a hand grenade. Tanks and Strykers roll over the bridge and then two hundred meters to an intersection. The tanks report the road is blocked by at least six IEDs. Hamudi goes back to work. Red dismounts clear the nearby houses. One is an HBIED. A hair-line tripwire runs by the door. The house reeks of propane. Move to the next house. More shooting. Red fights against two al Qaeda strong points for control of the high ground. More RPGs. Red kills an RPG gunner. He is dragged off but his RPG lays in the alley. The entire Troop is engaging and being engaged by the enemy. More fire from the palm groves and a mud hut. A Bradley puts more than fifty rounds into the hut. The grove is smoking from the tracers. Blue maneuvers on the enemy but hits another IED. The truck stays in the fight. The first robot is disabled by enemy fire. A second hamudi takes its place only to suffer the same fate. The fight continues, occasionally ebbing only to explode again and again. As the day wears on, it is becoming harder and harder to stand in the hatches as the pings off our armor and the crack of high-velocity rounds mark near misses. We are under almost constant small arms fire. The Apaches share some more Hellfires and 30mm with al Qaeda. The third and last robot is down. There are at least four more IEDs on the road—some have been hoaxes. The light is failing. We are black on smoke and almost black on ammunition. A dozen RPGs have landed among our Strykers. Time to refit for the fight tomorrow.
On 14 March, the Battalion began combat operations in Baqubah by aggressively seeking out the enemy; however, the enemy in Baqubah was prepared. From that first day and for many following, the Battalion faced the stiffest enemy resistance of its deployment; however, the Battalion’s Soldiers rose to the occasion, displaying a fierce resolve to destroy the al Qaeda fighters and, through their acts of valor and heroism, showing the enemy that the Regulars were in Baqubah to stay. From there, Operation Orange Justice pushed the Regulars into Buhritz, an AQIZ–controlled neighborhood in the city’s southern sector. Through dismounted operations, the Regulars, despite meeting heavy resistance, quickly eliminated a well-entrenched and determined enemy. The Soldiers’ efforts secured a vital supply route and re-established an IP presence in the southeastern corner of Baqubah. As the remainder of the Task Force moved to clear the other neighborhoods of the city, Bronco Troop remained behind as a security force in Buhritz .
Immediately following Operation Orange Justice, the Task Force initiated the first of seven Regular Justice operations. The Regulars also welcomed the additions of Apache and Bonecrusher Companies from 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry Regiment (3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division). These elements provided the Regulars with increased lethality as the Task Force now contained Strykers, M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs), and M1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks. With the addition of these assets and Buhritz under control, the Task Force focused its efforts on clearing and securing the east side neighborhoods of Tahrir and Old Baqubah and, during the process, established COPs and fostered a relationship with the local ISF. The process proved to be dangerous and costly as over a dozen Task Force Soldiers lost their lives; however, Task Force Regulars would exact retribution by destroying over 300 AQIZ fighters.
Intel Pays Off
In early April 2007, the 5-20 Battalion Scout and Mortar platoons established two ambush positions approximately 500m north of route Coyote in western Baqubah. The purpose of the operation was to destroy an enemy mortar team that had been attacking FOB Warhorse on average four times per week. Both platoons dismounted at 0400 and conducted an 800 meter dismounted movement to their ambush positions. The western position was selected to destroy the enemy team and the eastern position was selected to keep a dismounted route open for exfiltration. The western position was led by CPT Jensen (Thunder 6) with 1LT McCaffrey (Shadow 6) leading the eastern position. Each position comprised approximately 15 soldiers from both platoons. The positions were established prior to sunrise and the soldiers settled in for the wait (intelligence indicated the mortars teams became active between 1100-1500hrs). At 1110 the three man enemy mortar team arrived and began to set up an 82mm mortar system. On order from CPT Jensen, SPC Collins (BN Sniper section) initiated and destroyed the first terrorist. At the same time SPC Bailey (BN Scouts) began engaging with accurate M240B fire and soldiers moved to the roof top to engage with their M4’s. In less than 10 seconds, because of the accurate sniper and machinegun fire, the three man team was eliminated. Elements of Battle Company, led by CPT Gore, and Iraqi Army soldiers moved to the enemy mortar position and recovered the mortar system and ammunition, denying its future use by the enemy. For the next seven weeks, after months of being hit 3-4 times weekly, FOB Warhorse received no mortar attacks.
Of special note, the Sykes’ Regulars made history during the initial stage of Operation Regular Justice III as Attack, Battle, and Hound Company executed the largest Stryker Infantry Battalion Air Assault in the history of the Stryker Brigades. The operation disrupted key pockets of AQIZ resistance in the al Abarra area to the south of Buhritz and showcased the versatility of the Stryker Soldiers.
Meanwhile, due to Task Force 1-14 CAV’s success in Southern Baghdad from July 2006 to March 2007, Rock Company conducted a relief-in-place with their counterparts in 1-4 Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. Handing over control of the once violent Zone 26 in Baghdad (South Doura), Rock moved approximately 7 kilometers north and found a new home at FOB Union III in the Green Zone. From there the company conducted stability operations in Karkh, a largely Shia enclave on Haifa Street in Central Baghdad.
Less than 48 hours after Rock Company’s arrival at FOB Union III, Rock Company received a mission to regain control of the JAM-dominated city of Diwaniyah, a place located 180 km southeast of Baghdad and holding a population of approximately 300,000. With only one week of preparation, Rock Company and elements from 1-14 CAV attacked into the city, and although they met heavy resistance, the task force inflicted substantial casualties on the enemy with no loss Coalition Soldiers injured. Within two days, Rock Company and the other members of Task Force 1-14 had succeeded in driving the enemy out of the town, and subsequently redeployed to Central Baghdad to resume stability operations in Karkh, where they remained for the final 5 months of the deployment.
In late May 2007, the Arrowhead Brigade Headquarters in Baghdad received orders from MND-B to move north to Baqubah and assist Task Force Regulars in clearing the remainder of the city. The Brigade Headquarters brought 1-23 Infantry, C-52nd Infantry, and 18th Engineer Company with it and also gained control of 1-12 Cavalry and a company each from the 3rd Brigade, 82d Airborne Division and the 2d Brigade, 25th Infantry Division.
Following weeks of planning, Task Force Arrowhead commenced Operation Arrowhead Ripper. In the pre-dawn hours of 19 June 2007, the Scout and Mortar platoons of Hound Company executed an air assault into the southern Khatoon sector of Baqubah and cleared and isolated the southern portion of the Brigade’s objective. The remainder of Task Force Regulars soon followed by ground, and initiated clearing the urban areas of southern Khatoon. The first day of fighting brought the Task Force’s only KIA as an Apache/1-12 CAV lost his life after his BFV struck a DBIED. Although the enemy had a well-prepared defense of the area by rigging numerous House-Borne IEDs (HBIEDs) and emplacing DBIEDs along the major routes, the Task Force’s Soldiers used a cautious, but deadly, approach in the clearing on. The resistance was intense at times, but leaders were quick to pinpoint and eliminate the threat through the use of attack aviation assets, Guided Multiple-Launched Rocket System (GMLRS) rockets, US Air Force precision bombs, and their own small arms. The clearing and securing process continued for several weeks, but by the first week of July, western Baqubah was free of AQIZ. The operation’s success paved the way for the Regulars to move back to the east side of the city while 1-23 Infantry assumed control of the western side.
Attack Company And The Battle For Khatoon
On 19 June 2007 Attack Company, 5-20 Infantry entered the Khatoon neighborhood of Baqubah as part of the 3-2 SBCT clearance operation Arrowhead Ripper. Khatoon was described at that time by Iraqis as the heart of Al Qaeda in Iraq and heavy resistance was expected. To combat this threat, Attack Company demonstrated throughout Arrowhead Ripper a superb integration of fire and maneuver. A/5-20 IN fired over 15 GMLRs (Guided Multiple Launch Rockets), dropped six JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munition) from fixed wing close air support, utilized Apache attack helicopters to both screen for friendly forces and to engage and destroy enemy targets, and employed 155mm artillery smoke and high explosive rounds. Attack Company also distinguished itself by being the first company in 3-2 SBCT to fire the 155mm High Explosive Excalibur Precision Guided Munition (PGM). On the first day of Arrowhead Ripper, Attack Company was clearing from south to north on the far western edge of Khatoon. 1st Platoon Attack pushed an element forward of the clearance elements to overwatch an open area templated as an enemy engagement area. As anticipated, as 2nd Platoon Attack approached the open area, they came under accurate and sustained enemy fire, pinning them down. From their overwatch position, 1st Platoon identified enemy fighters and began engaging with direct fire. They instantly killed three Al Qaeda members. A preplanned smoke mission was then called to allow 2nd Platoon to maneuver. Once employed, 2nd Platoon consolidated but still found itself under withering fire. They requested immediate fire support. Two JDAMs were dropped on the enemy position within minutes of the request. The determined enemy continued to engage 2nd Platoon despite the JDAMs, smoke, and 1st and 2nd Platoons engaging with direct fire. Recognizing how heavily fortified the enemy position was, the Company requested and received a four-GMLR linear sheath target. Once the target was employed, enemy contact ceased not only for that day but for the next two weeks for Attack Company in Khatoon - thus facilitating the Brigade’s globally-recognized success during the Battle of Khatoon.
Several weeks later, Task Force Regulars commenced Operation Regular Ripper, the last major combat operation of the deployment. The main focus of the operation was to secure the Old Baqubah neighborhood and provide momentum for the unit that would assume control of eastern Baqubah as the Battalion readied for redeployment. The operations brought many improvements in infrastructure and security for the people of Old Baqubah and kept the enemy on the run.
During its final months of the deployment, Task Force 5-20 IN was the main
effort of the entire Multi-National Forces-Iraq. GEN Patraeus and LTG Odierno
personally tracked and recognized the accomplishments of the "Sykes’ Regulars".
The Officers, NCO’s, and Soldiers of Task Force 5-20 IN successfully waged a
15-month deployment. From effectively training the ISF in Mosul, to the search
for a fellow American in al Anbar, to the mean streets of Baghdad, and finally,
to the palm groves of Baqubah; Task Force 5-20 Infantry answered every call and
its Soldiers strived each day to bring peace and security to the people of Iraq.
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