Anyway, enough about that...what about our green beret fellows?
They were better...on occasion. The team down at FOB Caldwell was awesome and we had a great working relationship with them. Their intel guy would pop in to discuss targets and the enemy situation and myself or one of my section members would swing by their team house from time to time to do the same. A few high value targets and persons of interest were detained because of this relationship. When the team rotated out we kept up our working relationship with the new team but unfortunately that only lasted a couple of months before the team was forced to move out of the area because Caldwell was shut down.
Working with the team on COP Cobra was a little more...interesting. I rarely saw their intel guy and he kept his cards close to his chest. Their commander was a very common site in our headquarters, though, and he would often have sit down chats with the squadron commander and stop into my office to talk and share. Several of our missions were conducted with the assistance of the SF team on Cobra.
It was when that team left and a new one came in that the situation got a little weird, and I'll admit part of it was my fault. Their new intel guy came around a lot and even participated in the joint Iraq/Kurd intel meetings that I hosted which was great. However, the team didn't get out much and they practically stopped conducting missions. Not entirely their fault as by this time the Combined Security Area© had been established meaning that all US forces had to conduct missions with both Iraqi and Kurd partners in the CSA. Fine for us, we brought in a Kurdish platoon and lived on the same base with an Iraqi army brigade HQ. Not so fine for the SF team who only had an Iraqi commando company to work with (there was a Kurdish "Swat" team in the Khanaqin area but no way in hell were the Iraqis going to allow those guys to come anywhere near the CSA). This led to my concern the new team seemed to be taking their sources' information hook, line, and sinker without taking the info with the standard grain of salt. The team couldn't really leave the base to go confirm information on the ground.
I should explain. Human intelligence, or HUMINT for short, is the process of gaining information from human informants...like a police snitch. The source can be as informal as a random civilian telling you something in the marketplace to a vetted, known personality, who is a member of an insurgent cell but is feeding you info. Part of my job as the intelligence officer was to weed through all the reports we would get and determine which were legit and which were bullshit...not always easy.
One evening in February the SF commander came to our headquarters and stated they had a source claiming that some of our high value targets were meeting in a village in the Tibij tribal area (Tibij being a dusty wasteland across the river from us where the hostile Kurwi tribe lived). The source was using a sub source so it took us several hours to determine which village and which building the meeting was occuring in. We also had to grab our Iraqi friends to plan with them (the Kurds were easy, tell them we're going to capture Arabs and they'll follow you like a platoon of puppies).
Pictured: our Kurdish Peshmerga platoon! I kid, I kid.
But the bigger question, did it work? Did we capture any of targets by monitoring the majic sheikh man with spirits inside him? Of course not. Not going to be that easy.
It was pretty late by the time we got rolling (I use "we" because I somehow got roped into going) and by this time the un-named HVTs became named HVTs. This should have been a red light for me since a source like this suddenly giving very actionable intelligence with named individuals almost never happens, but we preceeded anyway because, hey, you've got to at least take a shot on goal to get a score.
The troop (plus Iraqis and Kurds) hit the target house sometime after 2 am...but it was the wrong house. Hell, it was the wrong damn village. This set off more red lights for me since the source couldn't even get us to the right village, but of course we pressed on. It was determined the correct village and house wasn't that far away so we got our shit straight and hit that house...
...and found pretty much nothing.
Well, I shouldn't say nothing. There was the family plus 3 teenagers visiting from Salah al Din province. Of note there were a lot of video tapes "hidden" in a closet and some computer equipment set up with a wireless network, which was very odd for this part of Iraq. Of particular note one of the videos was labeled in Arabic "Beheading" or "Torture" or something along those lines.
...which was pretty much nothing. Turns out they were Egyptian movies. Oh well.
So what the hell happened?
The way I figure it, and the squadron commander generally agreed with my figuring, was that someone saw these teenagers arrive at the house and freaked because they were strangers. Strangers are generally bad in that part of Iraq and in some crazy game of telephone 3 teenagers visiting from Salah al Din became 3 insurgents, which got to the SF source who turned that into 3 HVTs, and after some pressure just gave us 3 names of guys he knew we were going after.
You can see why I had a lack of trust in the SF sources. Hell, I had a lack of trust in most of my squadron's sources as well. It was after 6 am before I got to bed thanks to lack of vetting by the SF team.
There was a bit of silver lining, though. We would eventually learn that the owner of the house we raided was a minor sheikh. A sheikh who believed he had a a djinn inside of him who helped him heal people. A djinn is essentially a genie that can be good, evil, or neutral...and this sheikh had one inhabiting his body. The teenagers from Salah al Din were likely visiting to be healed by the djinn. The sheikh immediately became a person of interest to us because we had some information that one of our targets was chronically ill. So where would an insurgent who is ill and lives in an area with little to no medical care? A sheikh with a healing djinn of course! Or that was the logic of the operations officer, but I was willing to go along with because it was a better lead than anything else my section had at the time. Looking back it seems a little ridiculous, but that's Iraq for ya.
Next post...I burn the bridge with the SF team and then piss on the ashes.