The Special Ops war

In Iraq, special operations forces had some special moments.

"...Special forces were usually ahead of the tip of the spear: as U.S. troops pushed toward Baghdad, secret combat teams zipped into Iraq aboard specially outfitted MC-130 Combat Talon planes that used highways as landing strips, surprising the enemy at its rear. On the road to Tikrit, they fingered Iraqi vehicles fleeing the capital for destruction by M1 tanks. And inside the capital, the elite Delta Force slipped into Baghdad's back alleys and into its sewers to eavesdrop on communications, cut fiber-optic cables, target regime leaders and build networks of informants.

"Sometimes they just got lucky: a 12-man Green Beret team in customized humvees came upon a Shi'ite cleric and several hundred of his anti-Saddam disciples near Basra on March 20, according to the team's intelligence officer. The cleric sheltered the U.S. troops and their vehicles in warehouses as they plotted joint maneuvers. The Americans deputized the locals and then passed out Chinese-made weapons to the cleric's men and led them on a number of successful raids, seizing more than 100 antitank missiles. When the same Green Berets couldn't dislodge a well-entrenched Iraqi detachment from around a bridge in Basra, they broadcast the sound of approaching tanks from their humvees, drawing the Iraqi troops out of hiding and exposing them to fire—a model psychological operation. 'It was bait-and-ambush,' the intelligence officer said later."

"...But they fought with very different weapons. The Army captain carried a special scope that enabled him, while hiding several miles away, to fix on elements of an Iraqi artillery battalion south of Arbil, moving toward the city. With U.S. and Kurdish troops blocking the way, the Army officer radioed targeting information on his scope to Air Force air-traffic controllers. They sent B-52s packing a flurry of 2,000-lb. bombs to push the Iraqis 10 miles back down the road. Several U.S. officials who worked on coordinating air strikes for special-forces teams told TIME that often as little as 10 minutes elapsed between an initial call for help from the Kurdish-controlled areas of the north and the first bombs falling. 'How do you make 50 special-forces teams look 10 feet tall?' asked General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the war's opening days. 'You put Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force power with them. With the right communications and laser designators, you've got a pretty formidable force.'"

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