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Mission 28 - Details
Ramadi Convoy Exercise

Ramadi-Fallujah Highway, Iraq: Improvised explosive devices are the biggest killers of US troops in Iraq to date. Recognizing its convoys are particularly vulnerable to the devastating effects of an IED attack, the coalition wages a day-to-day campaign against insurgents operating at the peak of their resourcefulness.

Route Michigan is a 4 mile stretch of road that runs through a marketplace packed with vendors and civilians, several mosques, and countless insurgents. The course winds through the perilous center of Ramadi where it is up to the Marines to keep the east-west artery open and secure. There is a 10-vehicle convoy tasked with the treacherous duty of routinely traveling across Route Michigan delivering food to military bases. The road is a frequent site for improvised explosive device attacks. On a single morning in October, nine bombs are discharged or discovered. IEDs are found laying in wait every half-mile.

Run twice daily, the Ramadi convoy operation is dubbed "the suicide train."

Convoys have always been a favorite target for insurgents. Maiming coalition soldiers and preventing the transport of vital ammunition and food is a prized trifecta for insurgents. With strategic placement, IEDs can disable the entire fleet, meaning the whole convoy can become impaired if IEDs are properly spaced. Soldiers are briefed on how to maintain distance so their entire convoy won't be hit all at once in the case of a multiple IED site.

IEDs used to be a Hail Mary of sorts, a last-ditch effort by rebels who would quickly assemble a crude explosive from tape and a 9-volt battery and an old shell casing, lay it in the road, and hope for the best. But the improvised explosive device has morphed into a sophisticated offensive weapon, a hand-crafted killer built with finesse and professionalism.

By far the most advanced piece of weaponry in the rebels' armory, IEDs have killed more soldiers than any other weapon in Iraq, accounting for fully half of all casualties from the Marines and the Army. A Coalition Provisional Authority study of a 90-day period ending December 2003 found that US forces in Iraq suffered 708 IED attacks. Of those, 298 bombs caused 718 casualties, more than those wounded by all the RPG and mortar rounds combined.

For survivors, the injuries sustained from an IED are vicious. Hospital workers are treating more head wounds than chest or abdomen injuries for the first time since the Vietnam War. IEDs have a nasty pattern of showering shrapnel under the lips of Kevlar helmets, and soldiers with deep, severe burns are proof-positive the insurgents are saturating some IEDs with jelly gasoline.

Some devices have been found containing the nerve agent sarin. Others have been found to include mustard gas. Overkill perhaps, because the most common IEDs used in Iraq - artillery rounds packed with shrapnel and connected by wire to a blasting cap - are maliciously effective "as is." Remotely detonated with a cell phone or garage door opener, insurgents can keep out of harm's way while the shock-wave from an IED alone is enough to cause a lung concussion from which a soldier dies an excruciating death.

Even for who have not encountered an IED, the chronic attacks take a mental toll. An IED symbolizes an elusive enemy that seems to be beyond reach, can't be foreseen, and manages to dictate the direction of everything from convoy routes to reconstruction efforts. Soldiers are acutely aware of the devastating potential that lies in every piece of trash and around every corner, an anxiety that compounds the inherent confusion of war and forces soldiers to second-guess their every move.

It is psychological warfare at its finest.


Ramadi Convoy Exercise

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