Civilian casualties are occurring, despite much discretion being used on the firing. I saw three MLRS rockets hit targets downtown today (June 20) and more were fired. Watched the video feed from the TOC as some of them hit. The targeting was perfect. Our guys had cleared out the civilians, but the enemy starts shootouts using civilians as cover. American officers are trying to account for civilian casualties; media is asking and command is still unable to answer, which of course looks like a cover-up. From what I see on the ground, there is no cover-up. The number is unknown but certainly there must be some.
Michael Gordon is a NYT reporter who is in the battle. Gordon will be an important resource. The commanders take a break from fighting each day to have meetings with each other, and Iraqi officers, and he comes off the battlefield with one of the commanders to the briefings. I saw Gordon today, his shirt stained white from sweat. Gordon and I were at a commander briefing when one of the battalion commanders, LTC Smiley, talked about how his soldiers shot some terrorists today (June 20); on different occasions today, women and children came out and “gave aid” to the wounded terrorists. My guess is that the number of civilian casualties is not high. Gordon has been running with other soldiers, so it will be important to hear his accounts. From what I’ve read so far, Gordon has been very accurate and on target.
By the end of the first day (June 19), about 30 enemy had been killed, 1 U.S. killed and 5 WIA. At least two soldiers were heat casualties, including one who was with my group.
The combat has only just begun, and media has now figured out this is serious business. During the morning brief (June 20th), Major Robbie Parke mentioned that CNN, TIME, Reuters and some others, are trying to get out here now. Problem is space. Looks like Gordon and I are mostly alone for now. Others are said to be in Baqubah, but if they are here, they are missing some of the most important parts, and if they were at the important commander’s meetings, I would have seen them.
The heat is intense for the enemy and for us. Soldiers, during any chance, would lay-down during the heat of day, and in complete body armor and helmets, fall asleep in the dirt. I took photos of course. Our guys are tough. The enemy in Baqubah is as good as any in Iraq, and better than most. That’s saying a lot. But our guys have been systematically trapping them, and have foiled some big traps set for our guys. I don’t want to say much more about that, but our guys are seriously outsmarting them. Big fights are ahead and we will take serious losses probably, but al Qaeda, unless they find a way to escape, are about to be slaughtered. Nobody is dropping leaflets asking them to surrender. Our guys want to kill them, and that’s the plan.
A positive indicator on the 19th and the 20th is that most local people apparently are happy that al Qaeda is being trapped and killed. Civilians are pointing out IEDs and enemy fighters, so that’s not working so well for al Qaeda. Clearly, I cannot do a census, but that says something about the locals.
Much going on here in Baqubah. Unfortunately I have no assistant with me, and so no time for photos or video.
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