BAGHDAD AIRPORT – 'We are on an offensive-oriented mission. Our job is to
destroy the enemy. We defend the airfield by destroying the enemy around
us,' explained Lt. Col. Scott Rutter, commander of the 2-7 Mechanized
Infantry Battalion, at a command briefing to his officers Saturday
The 2-7 Battalion, together with the 3-69 Battalion from the 3rd Infantry
Division First Brigade, took over Saddam Hussein International Airport on
the western edge of Baghdad late Thursday night.
The airport is surrounded on all side by sites of vital importance to the
Iraqi regime. These include Special Republican Guard headquarters, barracks,
and bases, two presidential palaces, one of which is Saddam's official
residence. There are also two suspected chemical and biological warfare
plants located in close proximity to the airport.
While 3-69 took over the main terminal building, the 2-7 Battalion is
stationed at the entrance to the airport complex on Highway 8 connecting
Baghdad to the airport.
'We are blocking potential enemy reinforcements along Highway 8 from the
city of Baghdad. This protects friendly forces securing Baghdad
International Airport. It is a major enemy avenue of approach in their bid
to kill soldiers and interdict operations,' said Maj. Kevin Cooney, the 2-7
Friday morning, while forces stationed in the terminal met with light
pockets of resistance from Special Republican Guard forces still within the
airport complex, the 2-7 Battalion was barraged by enemy fire.
From 7:30 to 11:30, Iraqi forces attacked the battalion with tanks, mortars,
artillery, RPGs, and light arms fire, most of this emanating from a
presidential palace 500m away from battalion headquarters.
The Iraqis also attempted to attack the battalion with an explosives-laden
fire truck that was destroyed by an M- 1A-1 Abrams tank round. During Friday
morning's fight, soldiers destroyed three Iraqi T-72 tanks with shoulder-
launched Javelin anti-tank missiles.
The Iraqis ambushed the battalion engineering company that was securing a
POW collection point 500m from headquarters. One soldier was killed and six
were wounded by shrapnel. The wounded were medevaced to an army surgical
hospital in the rear.
At the same time, the 2-7 Alpha Company conducted room-to-room
search-and-destroy missions in a nearby Special Republican Guard compound.
The complex had already been bombed in air force operations Thursday night.
However, the soldiers, led by Rob Smith, engaged pockets of resistance still
holed up in the rubble. 'Most of the soldiers we saw were eager to
surrender,' Smith said.
In all, on Friday the battalion destroyed six tanks and eight armored
personnel carriers and killed five Iraqi snipers.
According to intelligence officer Derek Smits, 'From the accounts we
received from the soldiers after the shooting ended, the Iraqis were trying
to fight their way out of the airport and the presidential palace and escape
to Baghdad. The troops saw them attempting to blast through a wall to escape
the palace,' he said.
Iraqi Radio reported Friday morning that thousands of civilians would march
to retake the airport at 15:00. The US forces began precision aerial bombing
a Republican Guard camp at 14:30. 'Note the timing of the bombing,' Rutter
remarked; 15:00 passed with no Iraqi attempt by civilians nor military to
retake the airport.
Learning from the previous day's experience, the battalion beefed up its
offensive operations on Saturday, taking positions inside Special Republican
Guard headquarters and directly outside a presidential palace.
'Yesterday the Iraqis attacked us in an effort to put us on the defensive.
They tried to dislodge us from a blocking position on the highway, but it
did not work. By nightfall their attacks ended. Our one offensive yesterday,
which met with minimal contact from the enemy, was sufficient to stop their
operations,' said Rutter.
The ground troops have found that even after air force bombing reduced Iraqi
complexes to rubble, Iraqi forces often remain or attempt to return.
Infantry offensives are necessary to flush out these structures and occupy
'We don't want to repeat the mistakes made in Vietnam when US forces took
terrain and then left – only to be attacked again from the same locations.
The infantry is the only branch of the military that can both seize and hold
terrain,' said Cooney.
As the battalion's Alpha Company used TOW anti-tank missiles to destroy two
Iraqi T-72 tanks and kill 10 Iraqi infantrymen still within the already
bombed-out presidential palace, Bravo tank company patrolled a bombed- out
Republican Guard training camp. There, evidence of precision Air Force
bombing from the previous night was clearly at hand. Buildings reduced to
smoldering gray brick rubble abutted others left largely unscathed. From one
such building, an Iraqi sniper shot at M-1A-1 Abrams tanks.
Rather than send in forces to find him, company commander Capt. Jimmy Lee
destroyed the building with high explosive charges. The sniper appeared
shortly thereafter. As he lay on the ground, he held up a press card and
claimed to be a journalist stuck at the compound.
'The guys asked me what to do,' Rutter, who was with Bravo tank company, said. 'I told them to handcuff him because he was just shooting at us.'
Earlier in the day, Iraqi television reported that US forces had not entered
Baghdad and that the Iraqi army had retaken the airport. This was
interesting news for soldiers, particularly from the 101st Airborne
Division's 3-187 Battalion that entered the terminal buildings on
search-and-destroy missions Saturday morning. Their initial search of the
VIP terminal turned up, 'gold, china, jewels, and other expensive items
hidden at the site,' said Maj. Rod Coffey, the 2-7's Operations Officer.
As the sun began to set Saturday evening, with black smoke billowing out
over an expanse of several hundred meters from the Special Republican
Guard's base, 2-7 soldiers took a sanguine view of their experience as the
most combat-tested battalion thus far in Iraq.
'Here we are at what two days ago was Saddam Hussein International Airport. We completed our mission to date and are thinking about our next one,' said Staff Sergeant Patrick
As he watched an Abrams tank tow a track from a disabled 1-33 armored
vehicle, Master Sgt. Timothy Cabell put things in perspective. 'We were able
to do something that many armies have tried in the past to do but failed. We
made it here to the airport at night through the maze of streets of the
towns along the Euphrates River. Thank God for our technology. Without our
night-vision, our GPS, and our troop grid tracking systems, I don't know how
we would have done it.'
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.