By Wes Eubanks
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | In March 2003 in northern Iraq, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Commander Col. William Mayville spoke to the troops before the drop: “Americans are asking you to make the world a better place by jumping into the unknown for the benefit of others. Paratroopers, our cause is just and victory is certain. I want you to join me tonight on an airborne assault.” Seventeen Air Mobility Command C-17s flew 1,800 miles, descended to 600 feet, and 1,000 highly motivated personnel jumped into total darkness. It was the largest combat airdrop since Panama, 1989. The 173rd’s area of operation was in a region of northeastern Iraq bordering Turkey, Iran and controlled by Kurdish and U.S. Special Forces. The primary mission was to secure oil fields around Mosul and Kirkuk. Army Major Mike Hastings said in early April, “Kirkuk is key, the Iraqis want it, the Turks want it and various other ethnic groups want it. What this drop means is that we can secure it until we are relieved by other forces.”
This mission was very important and the force consisted of two battalions. The 1st Battalion (Bn.) 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) and the 2nd Bn. 503rd PIR.
Together they made up approximately 80 percent of the airborne troopers, the remaining 20 percent was a select combination of engineers, sniper and long-range surveillance teams, army rangers, air force special ops troops, a combat support company, also 19 airmen of the 86th Expeditionary Contingency Response Group, and a six-man medical/surgical detachment. Heavy equipment was dropped first, then the paratroopers to secure Harir Airfield near Bashur. The airfield was later used to deliver tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles via C-17s airland operations
It was the 173rd’s first wartime drop since February 1967, when 845 paratroopers of the 2nd Bn. 503rd PIR and A Battery 3rd Bn. 319th Field Artillery jumped near Katum, South Vietnam during Operation Junction City.
After Turkey (a NATO ally) denied the U.S. permission to base ground troops on its soil and denied the use of land routes to drive into northern Iraq from Turkey, U.S. commanders considered flying the brigade into Harir Airfield. But that scenario would have taken too long. Commanders figured a full-blown airborne assault would get the job done and also would have a deep psychological impact on the Turks, Iraqis and Kurds. The troops landed about 75 miles east-northeast of Mosul. An additional task for the brigade was to assist and help provide a semblance of order following the war.
One problem was the al Qaeda linked Ansar al-Islam, a group of about 700 Islamist extremists which included members from various Arab countries. These terrorists were a very dangerous group dedicated to the destruction of the Kurdish people. The Kurds said Ansar al-Islam had been fighting against the secular Kurdish government of northern Iraq for two years backed and funded by Tehran and was holed up in villages on the mountainous border with Iran. In late March 2003, 100 U.S. Special Forces and 10,000 Kurdish pesh merga troops struck Ansar al-Islam guerrillas and killed between 150-200. Islamist extremists are comparable to rattle snakes, given the opportunity they will kill you. The solution is to kill them.
Se Vis Pacum Parabellum. If You Want Peace Prepare For War.
By Wes Eubanks