Iraq Diary: Training to Board Craft on the Euphrates [With Video]

We were down on the Euphrates this morning with Navy LT Torres and eleven Iraqi soldiers that he is training. On today's menu: learning to board crafts encountered while on patrol on the the river. The rule is to board every craft, again and again, as encountered. Yesterday's friendly fisherman could be today's insurgent, or someone who is perhaps being coerced by others on board.

See video of a practice boarding here.

We were in a three-boat unit. The technique consists of the lead boat coming alongside, greeting the passengers in a polite fashion, at the same time ordering them to the front of the boat with weapons trained on them. The second boat in our unit will align directly behind the first, and the third off to the left, forming an 'L.' One of the men from the first boat will then board, inspect whatever there is to see aboard, and as appropriate give an all-clear sign and return to our boat. The men are trained to keep their weapons aimed at the passengers till we are well clear. Passengers could be waving a friendly good-bye, only to grab weapons or hurl a grenade as soon as our guard is down.

NOTE: for those who might be concerned that we are divulging techniques, be assured that permission to describe the procedure was requested and granted before posting this report.

The practice boardings will be repeated again and again and again, with each boat taking its turn in the different positions, until LT Torres is satisfied.

Aside: the area where we were training has not been subject to sniper fire, only to indirect mortar activity. We could see a cluster of houses perhaps 2,000 yards upriver that is a known hang-out for the bad guys, but we were out of range. We did see a couple of our helos go by and a few minutes later got a radio report that they had come under ground fire, either an RPG or a shoulder-held missile. No damage, fortunately. It is difficult for the helo crews to return fire since our military is under orders not to fire when the bad guys are near civilian houses. Knowing this, the insurgents tend to launch their attacks from such areas.

On the way back to our vehicle, we came upon Private Dominguez up in the turret of an amored vehicle with an M-240G medium automatic machine gun. From her perch, she could see out over the river. LT Torres gave me permission to ask the private her rules of engagement. She explained that she would not fire until she saw sure signs of hostile intent. Merely seeing someone carrying a weapon on the far bank out of uniform was not sufficient, as we have outposts there and men will occasionally change into civilian gear. But if someone brings a weapon up pointed to our side of the river, she is authorized to fire without the need to receive an order from a superior.

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