House bombs of Baqubah

Michael Gordon:

The enemy was a phantom who never showed his face but transformed a neighborhood into a network of houses rigged to explode.

And the soldiers from Comanche Company’s First Platoon confronted this elaborate and deadly trap.

The platoon’s push began shortly after 4 a.m. on Saturday, as American forces continued their effort to wrest the western section of this city north of Baghdad from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Tracer rounds zipped through the air as the soldiers fired antitank weapons, mortar shells and machine guns at the abandoned houses they planned to inspect across the street.

They calculated that the firepower would blow up any bombs the insurgents might have planted in the houses, while providing cover so the first squads could move south across the thoroughfare.

The use of house bombs is not a new trick, but as the soldiers were to learn, the scale was daunting. The entire neighborhood seemed to be a trap.


But there were a few early indications that the bomb threat in the area might be more challenging than the Americans had expected. The street the soldiers had raced across was strewn with slender copper wires, which the insurgents used to set off buried bombs powerful enough to upend armored vehicles.

As the platoon watched from its new foothold south of the road, a Buffalo vehicle, a heavily armored truck with a V-shaped body to dissipate bomb blasts and a giant mechanical claw, began to scour the nearby roads for bombs. It found three, which were exploded by American combat engineers.

“Controlled dets,” a soldier called out, referring to a deliberate detonation of a discovered bomb. The good news was that the buried bombs had been found and neutralized. But some had been deeply buried on the road the platoon had just crossed.

The street bombs were probably little threat without a triggerman to set off the blast. The houses where the soldiers had secured their toehold seemed to have been abandoned, but soon after the platoon settled in, a small line of weary Iraqi civilians carrying a white flag emerged and slowly walked away. If some civilians had been lingering in or near the neighborhood, perhaps some insurgents were, too.

To blast a path through the next bomb-ridden stretch of road, combat engineers brought in a mine-clearing device. A bright fireball appeared over the street and a cloud of gritty dust engulfed the platoon’s house as the soldiers huddled in the back and plugged their ears.

Afterward, as Sgt. Philip Ness-Hunkin, 24, walked to the house next door, he saw copper wires leading to the home. The gate was unlocked and the front door was invitingly open.

“Right in the front door there was a pressure plate under a piece of wood,” he said, referring to a mine that is set to blow when it is stepped on. “Over in that neighborhood there were wires going all over the place.”

“H-BIED,” a soldier called out, using the military’s acronym for a house-borne improvised explosive device.

The last place the platoon wanted to be was next door to a house bomb and a series of structures that had not been cleared. If the soldiers got into a firefight and had to dart in and out of the houses along the road, they might be diving into a series of deadly booby traps, explained First Lt. Charles Morton, 25, the platoon leader.

The explosive-rigged house needed to be destroyed by an airstrike or artillery fire. So the soldiers were instructed to move back across the road they had just crossed.

Once there, the troops clambered into a two-story house. When Sergeant Mennitto got to the second floor, however, he spotted antiaircraft ammunition and a detonation cord next to two propane tanks. The platoon had escaped from one house bomb, only to encounter another.

“Everyone get out!” he yelled.


The insurgent strategy appeared to be to use deep-buried bombs under the road and small-arms fire to force the soldiers to take refuge in the houses adjoining the route — and then to blow them up. Col. Steve Townsend, the commander of the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Second Infantry Division, which carried out the assault on western Baquba, said the network of house bombs here was the most extensive he had seen in Iraq. He said that in the first seven days of the attack, the brigade destroyed 21 house bombs. The platoon had encountered more than its share.

The bottom line was no American casualties and a lot of house total makeovers via explosions. The enemy went to a lot of work and the Americans dealt with it in a day. If he was buying time, he got a day for his efforts that must have required several days. The cordon was still around the area so he bought no escape route. It is interesting that he has gone from human IEDs to roadside IEDs to vehicle IEDs to house IED's all to little effect.


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