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Old 10-12-2008, 03:35 PM   #1
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Battle against the "Soldiers of Heaven"...

The untold story of the battle against the ‘Soldiers of Heaven’

By Gina Cavallaro - [email protected]
Posted : Wednesday Oct 1, 2008 13:26:36 EDT

The 11 Special Forces soldiers were speeding along in three Humvees. The call for help had come from an Iraqi army scout.
The Iraqis had moved a little after dawn to arrest what they thought were about 30 potential troublemakers.
The SF team members had no clue they were racing into a 24-hour battle, vastly outnumbered and outgunned by a heavily armed militia of about 800 cult-like Shiite warriors.

The “Soldiers of Heaven” were dug in to fight to the death in their quest to take over the city of Najaf and its holy shrine.
The fighting that erupted Jan. 28, 2007, turned out to be some of the fiercest of the Iraq war. U.S. and Iraqi soldiers killed 373 enemy fighters, and more than 400 surrendered. The U.S. Army awarded more than 100 combat decorations for bravery that day, including at least eight Silver Stars and a Distinguished Flying Cross.
The battle has since been reconstructed in some media accounts ,but the fight against the Soldiers of Heaven remains little known outside the circles of those who were there.
This is that Army story.
‘No one knew about it’

The call to Special Forces came at 7 a.m. from Iraqi soldiers and policemen who had come under fire from a surprisingly large force of insurgents. Within minutes, the insurgents had killed 18 Iraqi troops and sent the rest fleeing.
Capt. Eric Jacobson was team leader for Operational Detachment Alpha 566, 2nd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, a token U.S. presence in Najaf province that worked closely with scout platoons from an Iraqi army battalion based nearby. It was one of those scouts who called him for help.
After alerting an SF team from 1st Battalion in the area for possible backup, Jacobson headed to the fight with his team of 10 U.S. soldiers. Small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade rounds greeted them on arrival as dozens of insurgents blasted away from entrenched positions atop 15-foot sand berms.
“We immediately were engaging 50 to 60 people at a time from a berm position to our front and we helped our scouts get back,” Jacobson said.
Undetected by U.S. or Iraqi forces, hundreds of fighters had somehow managed over a period of several months to set up protected fighting positions and a command and control complex within a large compound six miles north of Najaf. Iraqi forces had stumbled into the hornet’s nest earlier in the day when they went there thinking they would be arresting a group of about 30 men.
Enemy fire quickly disabled the SF team’s three Humvees. Master Sgt. Raymond Lancey, Master Sgt. Petter Jacobsen and Staff Sgt. Gregory Keller jumped out and organized support-by-fire positions to help Iraqi soldiers pinned down by enemy fire.
RPG fragments hit Keller in the face, but he and the other SF troops continued to fight alongside their crippled vehicles with the 25 remaining Iraqi scouts out of a force of about 40; the others had been killed or were too wounded to fight. The only people still in the Humvees were the SF soldiers manning .50-caliber machine guns.
The U.S. and Iraqi soldiers blasted away many of their attackers, but fresh waves of fighters came in behind the dead and wounded to take positions on the berms.
The Americans and Iraqis did not realize it then, but they were battling the so-called Soldiers of Heaven, a radical cult led by a man whom the fighters believed to be the 12th Imam, or the rightful heir to the prophet Muhammad. Followers hoped to install him in the Najaf shrine.
Succeed or die trying — no other options existed for them in this mission.
Though based less than four miles away from the clandestine camp, the battalion of Iraqi soldiers remained unaware of the slow build-up of insurgent forces, supplies and weaponry inside the 3-square-mile camp surrounded by 15-foot sand berms.
“Absolutely no one knew about it,” Jacobson said.
A look at post-dated satellite photos, he said, revealed trenches and tunnels, tree lines and a cluster of buildings inside the walled area.
In that redoubt, the insurgents had armed themselves for an apocalyptic battle, with hundreds of AK-47s, PKC machine guns, a variety of automatic weapons, at least 500 RPGs and 50 launchers. They also manned larger crew-served weapons, such as the Soviet DShK, and three vehicle-mounted heavy machine guns.
Underestimating the threat

An Iraqi governor had assumed control of the province of Najaf from the Americans just two months earlier. They were tipped off to the presence of a camp of men believed to be planning to disrupt a holy pilgrimage by Shiite worshipers.
Najaf leaders directed a drive-through in an unmarked car on the night of Jan. 27, 2007, and the intelligence gathered from that led to a plan to round up the suspects at daybreak the following morning, Jacobson recalled.
But the Iraqis had grossly underestimated the threat and dispatched a small force of about 50 security forces in several vehicles.
The combatants were lying in wait and immediately opened fire on the Iraqis who arrived to arrest what they thought were little more than two dozen insurgents.
Instead, they ran into about 800 armed combatants.
Within minutes, 18 Iraqi soldiers and policemen were dead. Most of the surviving Iraqi security forces were armed only with pistols and their vehicles were disabled by enemy fire. They fled the scene, calling for reinforcements.
Disciplined enemy

Jacobson’s bloodied and immobilized team fought furiously to hold off the streams of enemy combatants. Finally, after staving off overwhelming numbers for about a half-hour, about 45 men arrived from Baghdad-based Area Operations Base 510, which included Green Berets from ODAs 512 and 513, plus soldiers from the Iraqi Counterterrorism Task Force.
They parked their vehicles to surround Jacobson’s position at the southeastern corner of the camp on an elevated road that was flanked on each side by a canal.
The Soldiers of Heaven kept coming.
“There were groups of 20 to 30 moving throughout the trenches and berms that were shooting at us from various positions, reinforcing themselves as they took wounded or dead and re-supplying themselves with ammunition,” Master Sgt. Sean Kirkwood said.
The insurgents fought with a discipline the U.S. soldiers had not witnessed among other enemy combatants in Iraq.
“The way they positioned their forces, the way they arrayed their defenses, it wasn’t by any means haphazard, it was a planned defense, tactically sound,” Kirkwood said. “The fire never stopped.”
But the enemy could not outmaneuver the key advantage that U.S. forces held and had called in, with the help of two Air Force combat controllers — Tech. Sgt. Bryan Patton and Staff Sgt. David Orvosh of 21st Special Tactics Squadron.
About two hours into the fighting, the battle changed dramatically as coalition fighter jets roared in: A-10s, F-16s and AC-130 gunships, as well as F/A-18 Hornets and British Tornado GR4s. Patton directed a pair of F-16s to strafe the abandoned Iraqi police and army vehicles that were now overrun with enemy fighters. The jets also dropped a few 500-pound bombs just inside the berm on the south perimeter of the compound.
A short time later, coalition forces began taking sniper fire from a mosque a few hundred meters to the north, outside the eastern berm of the compound.
Orvosh called in bomb strikes on at least two groups of fighters that had massed in trenches on the inside of the berm.
For three hours, as coalition forces and the Soldiers of Heaven traded heavy gunfire, the jets bombed and strafed targets identified by the combat controllers.
Over the course of nearly 24 hours, the aircraft would drop close to 11,000 pounds of bombs.
More reinforcements

Despite the aerial barrage, enemy forces remained entrenched. The bombing, however, gave the SF soldiers a chance to take stock and plan their move back to base to refit.
“We ended up with close to 30 shot-out tires and several humvees destroyed,” Jacobson said. “All of our humvees were down to 10 to 20 percent of normal load” of ammunition.
It was now a little past noon, and greater numbers of reinforcements had begun to arrive.
members of ODA 563, from Hillah, about 25 miles to the north, brought an elite Iraqi special weapons and tactics team — 200 personnel and 40 vehicles — to set up a blocking position south of Najaf.
Another group of U.S. soldiers, 12 members of military transition team 0810 from 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, were already in the fight.
The most astonishing aspect of the 24-hour battle, Jacobson and the others said, was the tenacity of the fighters. The majority of them, according to a battle summary, “fought until KIA.”

...And shephards we shall be. For thee my lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand. That our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to thee. And teeming with souls shall it ever be. E Nomini Patri, E Fili, E Spiritu Sancti.
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