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Mission 15 - Detail
Mosul - The al Qaeda Connection

December 28, 2003: Soldiers from the 101st Airborne conduct a cordon and knock operation in Mosul and turn up a house of Ansar al-Islam terrorists - militants associated with al Qaeda and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
"Outgunned and inside unfamiliar territory, how do the soldiers from the 101st kill three insurgents and contain the violence?"

US forces capture Saddam Hussein, but the violence plaguing Iraq is far from contained. Guerillas loyal to the ousted dictator launch a campaign against US and coalition forces. Their goal is to maintain whatever small grasp of control they may have in the wake of their leader’s demise. Saddam was a Sunni Muslim, and Iraq’s future seems likely to end up in the hands of the Shiites – a rival group suppressed and tortured by Saddam’s regime. The Sunnis are not willing to wait around and see what happens, and keeping the nation in turmoil is their best bet at fending off what they anticipate to be a future of second-class citizenship.

While local insurgents are fighting against US and coalition forces, foreign terrorist organizations are moving in and seizing what they see as an opportunity in Iraq. Forced out of their mountain compound by US bombings at the start of the war, Ansar al-Islam infiltrates many of the nation’s urban areas. Having tortured Kurdish locals while operating farther north, Ansar al-Islam is known as a vicious group with advanced chemical weapons training. Also connected to this group is Jordanian militant and senior al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He has coordinated a network of terrorist organizations throughout the world, and Ansar al-Islam is one of them. al-Zarqawi has either claimed responsibility or been blamed for most of the major attacks in Iraq in recent months. These include the car bomb assassination of interim president Izzadine Saleem, the beheading of American Nick Berg, and most recently, the beheading of South Korean hostage Kim Sun-il. Al-Zarqawi’s influence spreads far beyond the borders of Iraq, including the March 11th train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people.

US and coalition forces must respond to the daily threats throughout Iraq the best ways they know how - trying to flush out insurgents, whether domestic or foreign, through operations like the cordon and knock. Door-to-door searches are the most efficient way to contain rebel attacks that are overwhelming cities the military is trying to pacify and reconstruct. And while many of the most violent attacks taking place across Iraq are attributed to Ansar al-Islam’s urban warfare experts and vigilant suicide bombers, finding three members holed up in a Mosul house during a standard cordon and knock operation is certainly an unexpected turn of events.

On December 28, as planned, homes are searched and residents are questioned. But when the 101st Airborne announces their arrival to the occupants of a non-descript house on their route, all hell breaks loose. Soldiers are greeted with a live grenade. Then, gunfire rains down, wounding two outside. US troops immediately return fire, break down the door, and enter the building with a vengeance.

Once inside, the 101st is engaged in a gun battle so intense, the relentless discharge from the weapons ignites the house on fire. The soldiers’ attention is split in the midst of the chaos. Insurgents. Flames. Wounded comrades. And if soldiers think the situation couldn’t possibly get worse, they are wrong. There are two women, three children, and an innocent man mixed among the fighters.

Outgunned and inside unfamiliar territory, how do the soldiers from the 101st kill three insurgents and contain the violence? Maybe it’s a kill-or-be-killed reaction. Maybe it’s the sight of innocent people caught in the crossfire. Whatever the motivation, one thing’s for sure. The soldiers will be back on the devil’s doorstep, night after night. It’s their job.


Mosul - The al Qaeda Connection

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