As the sun set on 12 August, the Marines of 1st Platoon, India Company were manning battle positions at the ING compound. Behind layers of sandbags and ballistic glass, they looked over their gunbarrels into the restive city of Husaybah. Squad Leader, Cpl Luis Maxwell, had just checked one of the rooftop positions and commented to another Marine, “This has been a slow day. I wish we had something to do.” Just as he turned away, an RPG round slammed into the building just below the battle position, immediately followed by withering enemy machine-gun fire.
This began an hours-long fight that would severely test the compound’s defenses and the courage of 1st Platoon Marines. Unlike previous firefights at ING, this one featured a very disciplined and determined enemy . The attackers showed good tactics, using fire* and maneuver to get very close, trying to penetrate the compound. Clearly a new brand of bad guy was in town.
August 12th marked the beginning of a ‘surge’ of foreign fighters into Husaybah that continued until 3/2’s departure in early September. During that time, Zarqawi’s AQI made an all-out effort to take over the city and punish the Albu Mahal tribesmen that had been loosely cooperating with India Company. Many dramatic and important events happened in those last few weeks, which I will be covering in the book.
I’m currently piecing together those events, starting with the 12 August firefight. Several India Marines have given me their accounts, but I could use more. If you were there that night, or supported the fight somehow, I’d like to hear your story. Also, if you can help refine my map of the ING compound, that would be very useful.
*At one of the ING gun positions, a slab of ballistic glass took multiple MG rounds, which nearly penetrated it. That ballistic glass (from an uparmored HumVee door) is now displayed at 3/2 headquarters on Camp Lejeune.
In preparation for writing about the 12 Aug 05 firefight, I need to clarify some locations on the ING Compound in the northwest corner of Husaybah. I’m hoping some vets can help me with that. It was called ‘ING’ because a few Iraqi National Guard soldiers were using it at one point, but they were long gone in 2005. India Company 3/2 used it as a forward combat outpost, to keep eyes on Market Street and the surrounding neighborhoods They rotated India’s 3 rifle platoons through it, and sometimes referred to it as ‘the platoon position’. Many firefights (including 12 August) occurred here.
Below is an overhead imagery map that I’m annotating to show streets and certain buildings. It’s from Google Earth, which says its dated 30dec04. Possibly a few things changed by February 05 when India took over, but probably not much. I’m hoping some guys can accurately ID the various buildings and posts. (Note the orientation. North is down on this image)
Background on ING:
There were just a few buildings really on the very northwest corner of Husaybah that had been all shot up. They [Marines] had moved out and occupied, and it was their Forward Platoon, almost like an outpost, although it was within a couple hundred meters of the main camp, where the rest of the company was. It was barricaded, you know, HESCO barriers, so you couldn’t get to it other than from inside Camp Gannon to move out to that area. They had a Platoon Forward out there, because they could observe parts of the city that you couldn’t see from Camp Gannon. …You could look down on Market Street, probably the busiest area of Market Street right along there. It just seemed to be the routine up there that somebody would come along Market Street and challenge them by either taking a few sniper shots or stop to try to pop off an RPG… Although the Marines didn’t occupy all the space in between [Gannon and ING], in essence it was an extension of Camp Gannon into the town so that they could be looking straight down Market Street and a little bit into the southwest part of the town out there. –LtCol Mundy interview in ‘Awakening, Vol IIIA’
Quite a while ago, I posted a short video showing a daytime firefight at Trash OP. At the time, I didn’t know any of the details surrounding it. I also made some comments, based on my own observations. Here’s that post; Firefight at Trash OP. The video’s pretty good, so I suggest you see that first, then come back here…
Thanks to Jason Ellis and a few other Marines, I now have much more info on this engagement. First off, now I know the Squad Leader was Cpl Luis Maxwell in India’s 1st Platoon. Based on what I saw in the video, I made positive comments about the way he was handling his end of the fight, so its good to know who that was.
Also, now I understand this shootout was much longer than the video portrays. Firing went on for hours and thousands of rounds were expended.
Finally, this was just part of other events going on in Husaybah on May 2nd. Foreign fighters of Zarqawi’s AQI had murdered and beheaded the new Police Chief, trying to intimidate the local militia of the Albu-Mahal tribe–sometimes called the “local muj” by the Marines. Which is why in one of my my draft chapters, I call 2 May 05 “Bloody Monday”. Other violence was also occurring in the city (see a chapter excerpt at the bottom of this page).
Anyway, here’s an entry from Jason Ellis’ combat journal, which he’s shared with me. He kept written details of the firefights he was involved in, and gave me permission to post this.
May 2 – Trash OP
At Trash OP, 2nd Squad with attachments took contact. The attachments were LCpl Carnes, Butcher, Pale and CAAT [Section from WarPig1]. Pvt Fitzgerald was with CAAT. At 8am we took a few pop shots at our post. Roughly at noon we took full contact to our post. Cpl Maxwell had all the SAW gunners get online, me being one of them, and fire into the house that we were getting contact from. We opened up with a 30-round burst.
After we hit the house we received more fire. You could here the enemy’s rounds whizzing over our heads. Then we were in a full firefight. Everyone was unloading on all 12 of the house we were taking fire from. Fitzgerald was on the .50cal, he unloaded hundreds of rounds into the house. The Mk19 was on the CAAT HumVee, they started launching HEDP at any target that presented itself.
At times, I was firing 100 bursts at the enemy. It got so bad that we were running out of ammo. The AAVs had to bring more ammo out to us in the middle of the firefight. By the end of the 6-hour firefight none of us were wounded or hurt. We couldn’t say the same for the enemy. The total amount of rounds that were shot were 7,000 5.56mm, 80 HEDP out of 203s, 200 .50cal rounds, 200 HEDP out of the Mk19. I alone fired 2000 rounds out of my SAW. Halfway through the firefight, the .50cal went down and was taken out of the battle. The Mk19 also went down, but they got it back up. There were so many targets to engage that it was insane.
This is a section from my draft chapter, ‘Ramana’, that briefly discusses May 2nd, 2005 and the violence that occurred in Husaybah. I’ll be revising it slightly to mention this extended firefight at Trash OP.
The 2nd of May was a particularly volatile day, and in hindsight seems to have been the precursor for other developments. Although available sources are limited and indirect, they portray the picture of AQI flexing its muscle and local forces starting to push back.
That Monday in Husaybah, Ahmed Adiya Asaf walked openly among the shoppers and merchant stalls along Market Street. He had recently been installed as the city’s new Chief of Police, with the rank of Major. He was a well-connected Mahawali, and by placing him into this position the tribe was showing it would bring security to the area, on their own terms, not as puppets of foreign-born radical ideologues.
But Major Ahmed’s connections weren’t enough to protect him. Suddenly, seven men emerged from the crowd and attacked him, shooting him dead on the street, then publicly beheading him. News of the gruesome murder pulsed through the population like a shockwave, a blood-spattered announcement of the costs of resisting AQI. Yet there were those ready to resist, meeting violence with violence.
Behind their fortifications at Gannon, India Company had limited awareness of what was happening in the streets that day, but received reports of red-on-red fighting in and around the city. A large group of armed men was spotted, and a Cobra/Huey team was dispatched. Upon arrival over the city, the helo crews reportedly monitored a firefight between two armed Iraqi groups. At one point, the helicopters themselves took ground fire and the Huey was damaged seriously enough to make a temporary emergency landing.
Looking back through the prism of time, it now appears the fight between the tribal forces of the Albu Mahal and the foreign fighters of AQI was intensifying just as Operation Matador was about to kick off. This would have implications for the upcoming mission, subsequent operations by 3/2 and for the further development of relations with tribal leaders.
Chris Nothstine was one of the “trackers”, from 4th AAB (Amphibious Assault Battalion), that were attached to India Co. Now a wildland firefighter in Mississippi, back in 2005 he was the Crew Chief on one of the AAVs at Gannon. Chris has graciously shared his combat journal with me, which provides great details and insights.
One of many first-hand stories in his journal describes the so-called East End Raid during the early morning hours of 2 April 2005. India’s objective for the raid was to capture or kill key members of an insurgent cell. The objectives were in the southeast corner of Husaybah, in a known bad-guy area. There were four AAVs (also called “tracs” or “tracks”) on the mission, with Chris manning the gun turret in track number 4.
It was a major raid, conducted with a reinforced platoon (2nd Plt) and attachments. About 100 Marines were part of the raid force. The concept was to move rapidly to the objectives at O-dark-thirty, thus avoiding insurgent gunmen and hitting the targets with little or no opposition. But that’s not quite how things turned out, as Chris describes below.
Here’s a map for orientation. The lighter blue line shows part of the harrowing detour that tracks 3 and 4 took that night, as Chris remembers it anyway. This is a transcription of several of Chris’ handwritten journal pages:
This morning at the stroke of 0200 we rolled into the city. At 2200 on 4/1/05 we got on our tracks. Me, Massa, and Walker prayed over intercom. We staged, went over our route and objectives again, then rolled. We went to Canal St, then south on Colt 45 where a D-9 had cleared the obstacles. Friendlies were on the corner of Market and Colt 45. Once we got on Market (I was the last track) we took fire 2 blocks up.
We took constant fire all the way down Market. The fire was from the rooftops (south to north fire) a block off of Market. They were firing AK-47s loaded with straight tracers. We all missed our turn and the first track turned right at the “triangle of death”. Then we were on East End St. We took RPK and AK fire all the way down East End. There were 4-5 grunts in the back. Rivera had a SAW and was putting out heavy suppressing fire.
We missed our objective (all the tracks). Turned around and track 1 and 2 set in and took a little fire. A man popped out within 25 meters of Track 2’s rear with an RPG aimed in on them. 3/2’s snipers in the overwatch position took him out. Thank God.
3 and 4 tracks went back north on East End and hit the soccer field, then turned south on East End and went west somewhere (an RPG impacted at my track’s rear). Of course we followed track 3 because we can’t roll alone. We made some wrong turns and I advised them we need to head south back to Train Rd and then look for our objectives.
Finally we took a road to the south. Two story buildings were on both sides. We took accurate AK fire (all tracers). I opened up with the .50 cal to suppress as Rivera did the same. Then we took a left on a dead end street. Massa (my driver) reported an RPG ten meters in front. Myself and Rivera were still suppressing as we turned around at the dead end. We ran over two fences, a garden and a car. On the way back no one fired, thanks to the .50 cal and the grunts laying down suppressing fire.
I again advised 03 to take two lefts which would put us back on train. Once we were on Train, 03 finally found their street, which let me set in on my objective. The grunts got out and cleared the house. Set off two thermite grenades on the vehicles. No fire from my set position. I advised SSgt Greer we couldn’t go with our original egress plan, which had us going back through some of the same streets. I told them we took too much fire from that part of the city. The XO OK’d it. Thank God.
We took on EPWs. In our objective we had 17 kids 4-6 years old, three females and one male. Most likely we found the “Night Wolves” daycare. That was the insurgent group we were targeting on this raid. We crossed to Train Rd, then took sporadic small arms until we left. The Engineers blew [up] a shed with the RPG warhead from the dead guy and a rocket.
Our grunts were happy and pumped. The enjoyed the ride and appreciated the suppressing fire. They said we did everything perfect. When about 500 meters away, we took accurate small arms fire again, and Lopez and a SAW gunner (not Rivera) opened up and suppressed as we egressed. The [shed] blew and we were out.
0520 we were back at Gannon. Four target houses. One squad on a track plus security. 18 EPWs and 15 confirmed kills. 0 WIA, 0 KIA. It was successful. One house had IED material, batteries voltage meters, and some more stuff. AK recovered from a dead guy. RPG launch tube recovered. Another house was searched and they found and AK-47 and a pistol (US M-9). He was an ING Major. We took his weapons and him though. He was cooperative, but if he wasn’t playing [with] or training insurgents, he would have been killed in that part of town.
My crew did great, my vehicle had no issues and all I have to thank is the good Lord up above. It was like Star Wars. Massa ran over 3 walls and two cars. He also navigated well. I was amazed when they first opened up on us on Market. Our grunts were awesome and were constantly laying down fire. Many bullet holes in the track, and the 3rd shock on the STBD side bolt was sheared off.
We’re all back, and we killed at least 15 and took 18 military aged males. We did awesome. Thank God. When the first rounds went off over my head and tracers were everywhere, I thought of Lisa, and then that was it. The rest of the time we were under constant fire and in the zone. Massa and Walker both were baptized by fire on this this raid and did really well.
Massa did keep coming over the intercom and was saying “We are gonna die. We are gonna die. What the fuck? RPG! Where the fuck are we going?” I told him to follow track 3 until they found their house so we could set in. WE ALL DID AWESOME.
Here’s the first blog post. Not sure how to organize things yet, so will start by plugging in various images, youtube videos and links relating to 3/2 that I’ve collected over several years. As I go, I’ll try to set up logically-arranged pages.
By the way, the title of this post is from the headbanger song ‘Let the bodies hit the floor’ by the group Drowning Pool. In Iraq and Afghanistan it became kind of an unofficial anthem for grunts and soldiers, and I’m told it was popular among 3/2.
Here’s a YouTube compilation with the song as soundtrack, probably posted by a Marine. Caution: Some intense, graphic images of combat.