Soldiers in the U.S. 3rd Infantry moving north toward Baghdad say they believe they have been attacked by Iraqis wearing American uniforms. And they say they’re worried that some of the uniforms were stolen several weeks ago while the U.S. troops were in Kuwait.
I’m traveling with the 2nd Brigade of the Third Infantry, south of Karbala. They say they’ve been attacked by forces who are either wearing stolen 3rd Infantry fatigues, or they have purchased military clothing that looks like U.S. fatigues.
The troops here say they had a large load of laundry stolen when they were based in Kuwait several months ago, and they’ve been worried ever since about what happened to it.
Top U.S. military officials said they were not aware of the incident. But at the daily Central Command briefing Wednesday in Kuwait, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks reminded reporters that U.S. commanders had said earlier that they believed “this regime would seek to gain U.S. and U.K. uniforms in order to commit atrocities.”
“It tells us of the tactics of this regime,” Brooks said. “The practices of the [Iraqi paramilitary units] are more akin to the tactics of global terrorists than to those of a nation.”
If true, the tactic is similar to one used by the Germans during World War II at the Battle of the Bulge, when groups of English-speaking German soldiers wearing American uniforms and driving captured Jeeps caused widespread confusion. Many of those Germans were captured and, since they were in disguise, executed as spies.
Right now, 3rd Infantry commanders believe most of the troops attacking them are members of paramilitary units and el Qud forces, and not units of the Republican Guards. They do not have heavy weapons, so they are not a match for the well-armed 3rd Infantry. They’ve been firing rocket-propelled grenades, for example, that just bounce off U.S. tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles. But not far from us overnight, one
grenade hit a Humvee, which is much less protected. Fortunately, it was a dud and did not explode.
The attacks have made 3rd Infantry soldiers even more vigilant about protecting their column. If anyone is sighted approaching U.S. troops, the first question from their officers is “Are they armed?” and if the answer is “Yes,” the immediate response is, “Kill them.”
While some of their attackers have been wearing civilian clothes, they have not been intermingled with other civilians as has happened with units of the 1st Marine Division at Nasiriyah, because the 3rd Infantry has skirted population centers.
Thus far, the weather has made a bigger impact on the troops than Iraqi attacks. Morale is good, though the soldiers have been beaten down by the sandstorms. The sand is debilitating, because it requires the troops to constantly clean their weapons, which get gummed up by the sand.
But while it’s meant more maintenance on their vehicles, so far they say they’re not losing any more vehicles than they thought they would. They’re down one tank and two or three Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which is about what they were expecting.
(David Bloom is an NBC New correspondent traveling with the U.S. Third Infantry Division.)