A little after the sun settled into its twilight cradle the radio in the CP hissed out a message from our tank platoon; apparently the Iraqi Army soldiers they were parked beside knew the location of a fresh IED. I told 1LT Mac to hold the element in place and put out a quick guidance to my NCOs. By time I suited up and stepped outside the vehicles were almost prepped, and a few minutes later we rolled towards the link up site. When we arrived1LT Mac jumped off his M1 and gave me a quick backbrief on the situation. Apparently a helpful local had reported that there was a newly emplaced IED lurking about a kilometer down the road, and the Iraqi police officers would be able to identify the exact location. As I walked over to the Iraqi officers it was apparent that they were more then a little agitated, and it took several minutes just to coax the story out of them. The officers weren’t exactly sure where the IED was, and as they nervously shifted back and forth it became apparent that they wanted nothing more then to flee the area. My terp dutifully passed along their concerns, and then turned to me and said “the man on the left said he knows who put the IED in”. I took a long look at the small police officer in front of me and then asked him if he knew who placed the IED in. He hesitated for a moment, and it was clear my terp had translated something they hadn’t meant for me to hear. He admitted that he knew where the IED builder lived, but the second he did so he seemed to ball up like a pillbug. After several minutes of questioning I was able to get the full story. The frightened police officer knew where the individual lived, but he was certain he would be recognized and the AIF would take reprisals against his family. I spent several minutes appealing to his sense of duty and the oath he had taken as a police officer, and when I finished he agreed to take us to the location. By then his watch commander had arrived and sheepishly asked if they could take custody of the AIF fighter if we were able to capture him. I readily agreed, and the die was cast. We would take down the IED cell and then locate the IED.
As I was briefing the troops I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see the police officer and my terp behind me. The police officer had changed into civilian clothes, a flak jacket, and a Kevlar helmet to hide his identity and in that garb I barely recognized him. As I looked at his new apparel my terp asked if I could loan him a mask and gloves to further hide his identity. I pulled out a black ski mask, then took off my gloves and handed them to the policeman. He gratefully donned both, and when he did he looked for all the world like a haggard knock off of a GI Joe character. Another one of the IPs who wasn’t from the area agreed to come along to take the individual into custody, and when he gave me the thumbs up we set out in a long low line. The police officer familiar with the home was in the lead, and I followed a few steps behind him. We were paralleling one of the reed choked agricultural canals that criss-cross the area, and as we approached a small mound on the side of the canal the policeman whispered a quick message to the terp. The terp turned to me and said “they cut the bridge – we have to go around”. We doubled back until we found a crossing point and then we continued forward. After a few minutes our guide stopped beside another canal and looked back once again. This time my terp spent a long minute talking with the officer, and when he came back he looked dejected. He told me that this bridge had also been cut. I asked him if there was a way around and he told me that the bridge had been cut to allow the IED emplacer time to escape… if we took the long road around he would get warning of our arrival and skip away. As I looked down at that hateful black strip of water I thought back to some of the items I had seen in other canals and my stomach performed a slow, paralyzing roll. Then I heard a voice whisper “we are going across’ with perfect resolution. It took me a few seconds to realize those frightful words came from my own lips. By then the Iraqi policeman was already wading through the chest deep water, and I knew it was too late to turn back. I slipped down the muddy canal wall and sank into the cold, fetid water. I focused on keeping my weapons and equipment above the mire, and tried not to notice my boots settling into the thick scum on the canal floor. I made it across and clambered up the other side of the canal, then I settled behind the tall reeds net to our guide. Our troops quietly made their way through the canal, leaving only my terp on the far side. He stared at the water like a prey animal hypnotized by a weaving viper, unable to move forward into the watery morass below him. I hissed for him to follow and he plunged in, noisily made his way across the canal. While he sat net to me heaving and wheezing like an old steam engine I had our guide point out the target house, and then we set out with the other IP in the lead. We came up to the darkened home at a dead sprint, and the moment the IP barged into the unlocked home we detained the sole male inside. As we brought him out to allow the guide to positively identify him, the guide frantically waved off to his left. My terp turned towards me and said… “the IP went to the wrong house, it’s next door”. We immediately cut the man loose and stormed next door. We entered the home right behind our geographically challenged IP officer and started to clear the rooms.
One room held a combative 20 year old Iraqi with wild eyes and once we detained him we marched him out for the informant to identify. To my surprise the informant shook his head side to side to signify this wasn’t the AIF fighter, and we turned him back around and led him back to his living room. One by one we brought out the males and one by one the informant shook his head to signify that they weren’t our target. Finally we brought out the mildest of the bunch a smiling, neatly dressed man in his early 20’s. As soon as we too him out the IP seemed to shrink back in terror, and he nodded wildly before disappearing behind the home. We had our target. We flex cuffed the AIF fighter and turned him over to the other IP, then we made our way next door to apologize for our earlier mistake. Once we had made amends we made our way back to the tanks, our boots squishing with every step.
After returning the two IPs and their detainee to their police station we returned to the forsaken stretch of road that contained the alleged IED. By now we had long since lost our “guides”, and the entire road was cloaked in deep shadow. Rather then blindly searching the road for an IED we decided to continue the second part of the mission at first light - at least then we had a chance of spotting it while we were still out of the kill zone. Once the coordinations were complete we made our way back to the FOB… we all had clothes we needed to sterilize.