Video: Preparing for war in Iraq

Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/17/2004 8:23:50 PM ET 2004-02-18T01:23:50

A Stryker Brigade combat team closed in on the town of Salia. The target was an insurgent leader, Mohammad Mustafa.  “Mustafa himself is probably armed and probably has several bodyguards,” said Col. Robert Brown.

But as real as it appears — this is not Iraq.

It’s a U.S. Army training facility at Fort Lewis, Wash., where troops are getting a hard lesson in the cultural realities and attitudes they’ll find in Iraq.  It’s training so authentic that there are Iraqi nationals brought in to face the U.S. troops.  “They teach us the cultural awareness that if you have role players from the United States, you just don’t get it,” Brown said.

In one scenario, the Iraqis are outraged that American troops have invaded their town.  An interpreter tells a soldier, “You guys made a big mistake today. You guys surprised us when you came to our town.” The soldier replied, “Right. I understand.”

Then, a car bomb explodes, killing several civilians, further inciting the mob.

Video: Car bombing near school in Iraq One soldier said: “It’s only training — but the tension is real.”  Another added, “We don’t have enough combat power if they mass on us.”

Though it all they’re learning how to exert force without posing a threat.  It calls for extreme discipline in the face of chaos.  Capt. Chris Bachl said: “They’re stressed and had to really evaluate the rules of engagement and determine whether they shoot or don’t shoot.”

This kind of training is considered critical for these fresh troops headed into Iraq, whose mission is not only to wage war, but to win the peace — where the actions of a single soldier could have catastrophic repercussions.

“What he does on the street with an Iraqi citizen, with an Iraqi leader, can have implications well beyond just the battlefield he’s on at any point in time,” said Col. Todd McCaffrey.

In this case, the Americans made a safe, tactical retreat, which is not always possible in Iraq.

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