Academic journal article Military Review

Ambush and Aftermath: Contractors and Bureaucracy on the Interagency Battlefield

Academic journal article Military Review

Ambush and Aftermath: Contractors and Bureaucracy on the Interagency Battlefield

Article excerpt


WHEN CONFRONTING BUREAUCRATIC OBSTACLES, common sense should override formal procedures that are in place to serve military missions. Standard procedures are not ends-in-themselves and cannot account for everything. When they get in the way of effective operations, they become liabilities. Soldiers and leaders can foster more synergy and effectiveness by knowing when to override procedure. The people and the mission have to be fundamental in such decisions.

The following narrative describes the aftermath of an ambush on a private logistics convoy supporting the Iraqi Army in August 2004. As a private military contractor, my company was responsible for the security of the convoy. What occurred demonstrates some of the challenges that contractors encounter on the interagency battlefield. This discussion is not an indictment of anyone--it is a description of events from which we can extract lessons. I believe such lessons may help both private military contractors and those in the military who work with them on the common battlefield.

The ambush occurred about 2:00 p.m. on a hot August afternoon. I found out about it at around 5:00 p.m. via cell phone from a colleague who received an email from his friend at a military base in Mosul, about 600 kilometers (400 miles) north of Baghdad. His friend had heard about the attack from some U.S. military personnel stationed there.

My company had 12 American security guards and four Iraqi drivers performing escort for a convoy of 10 flatbeds, driven by Iraqis and loaded with refurbished medium trucks bound for the newly reconstituted Iraqi Army training base at Al Kasik. Al Kasik was the first training base reopened for the newly reconstituted Iraqi military, and there was intense pressure to get it operational as soon as possible. Since my company teamed with an Iraqi company to provide the perimeter security for this base, I knew the desolate nature and danger of the area. The challenge of trying to cobble together the details of an ambush that allegedly occurred somewhere along a 500-kilometer stretch of uninhabited desert highway was intensely frustrating.

In the hours following the first notification, the nightmare began to reveal itself piece by piece: an improvised explosive device detonated along the highway, at least one American dead, some wounded, trucks burning on the side of the road, no status on the location of the convoy transport trucks, whereabouts of the Iraqi company's convoy drivers unknown.

Sometime in the early morning, exhausted and frustrated, we received word that the injured had been evacuated and the survivors were near Mosul at a military airbase called Diamondback. My driver (Ahmed), his brother (Hussein), a close Lebanese friend (Johnny Haddad), and I jumped in a sedan and headed north. Our plan was to get to all the survivors as a show of corporate support, recover the killed in action (KIA), and come back to Baghdad the same day.

We had computer-generated road maps, but they did not indicate military bases, none of which are marked with road signs because the locations are classified. Nevertheless, all the locals know exactly where the bases are. However, in Iraq, one doesn't stop and ask locals for directions to an American military base. Finding our destination added several hours to our travel time.

Camp Diamondback is an enormous base located around what was once the Mosul International Airport, and my people were housed in trailers adjacent to the combat support hospital. They soon provided the details of what had occurred. My team leader and the Iraqi driver in the lead vehicle were killed, the driver decapitated by the blast--both Americans in the back seat sustained serious head injuries and were evacuated to military hospitals--the driver of the first transport vehicle was killed--both vehicles were completely destroyed in an inferno. The remaining nine Iraqi transport drivers had disconnected their cabs from the flatbeds and headed back toward Baghdad when the explosion occurred, or so we thought. …

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