We received this letter, ostensibly from a former Marine Corps First Sergeant, supposedly his second-hand assessment of weapons and enemy tactics in Iraq. This letter has subsequently been largely discredited, so I’m only leaving it up for a couple of days as a teaching tool. I’ve added a few notes. Special thanks to to another First Sergeant (1SG White) and to “Doug Carlton” for helping me with those notes.
Hello to all my fellow gunners, military buffs, veterans and interested guys. A couple of weekends ago I got to spend time with my son Jordan, who was on his first leave since returning from Iraq. He is well (a little thin), and already bored. He will be returning to Iraq for a second tour in early ’06 and has already re-enlisted early for 4 more years. He loves
the Marine Corps and is actually looking forward to returning to Iraq. Jordan spent 7 months at “Camp Blue Diamond” in Ramadi (a.k.a.: Fort Apache. He saw and did a lot and the following is what he told me about weapons, equipment, tactics and other miscellaneous info which may be of interest to you. Nothing herein is by any means classified. No politics here,
just a Marine with his own opinions:
U.S. Weapons and Equipment
1) The M16 rifle: Thumbs down. Chronic jamming problems with the talcum powder-like sand over there. The sand is everywhere. Jordan says you feel filthy just two minutes after coming out of the shower. The M4 carbine version is more popular because it’s lighter and shorter, but it also has jamming problems. They like the ability to mount the various optical sights and weapons lights on the Picattiny rails, but the weapon itself is not great in a desert environment. They all hate the 5.56mm (.223) round. Poor penetration on the cinder block structures common over there and even torso hits cannot be reliably counted on to put the enemy down. Fun fact: Random autopsies on dead insurgents shows a high level of opiate use.
2) The M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) .223 caiber.belt/magazine fed light machine gun. Big thumbs down. Universally considered a piece of s**t.
Chronic jamming problems, most of which require partial disassembly. (That’s great fun in the middle of a firefight.)
3) The M9 Beretta 9mm: Mixed bag. Good gun, performs well in desert environment; but they all hate the 9mm cartridge. The use of handguns for self-defense is actually fairly common. Same old story on the 9mm: Bad guys hit multiple times and still in the fight.
4) Mossberg 12ga. Military shotgun: Works well, used frequently for clearing houses to good effect.
5) The M240 Machine Gun: 7.62 NATO (.308) cal. belt fed machine gun, developed to replace the old M-60. Thumbs up. Accurate, reliable, and the 7.62 round puts ’em down.
Originally developed as a vehicle mounted weapon, more and more are being dismounted and taken into the field by infantry. The 7.62 round chews up the structure over there. [JWR adds: According to what I’ve read, they are not being dismounted in any large numbers–rather, it is the version made at the factory with the bipod, buttstock, and carrying handle that have been added to unit TO&Es.]
6) The M2 .50 cal heavy machine gun: Thumbs way, way up. “Ma Deuce” is still worth her considerable weight in gold. The ultimate fight stopper, puts them in the dirt every time. The most coveted weapon in-theater.
7) The .45 pistol: Thumbs up. Still the best pistol round out there. Everybody authorized to carry a sidearm is trying to get their hands on one. With few exceptions, can reliably be expected to put ’em down with a torso hit. The special ops guys (who are doing most of the pistol work) use the HK military model and supposedly love it. The old
government model [M1911] .45s are being re-issued en masse. [JWR adds: According to what I’ve read, the venerable M1911 .45 ACP are only issued in small numbers. I wish that they were issued en-masse.]
8) The M14: Thumbs up. They are being re-issued in bulk, mostly in a modified version to Special Ops guys. Modifications include lightweight Kevlar stocks and low power red dot or ACOG sights. Very reliable in the sandy environment, and they love the 7.62 NATO round.
9) The Barrett .50 caliber [.50 BMG] sniper rifle: Thumbs way up. Spectacular range and accuracy and hits like a freight train. Used frequently to take out vehicle suicide bombers (we actually stop a lot of them) and barricaded enemy. Definitely here to stay. [JWR adds: According to what I’ve read, they are primarily used by EOD teams for blowing up suspected land mines and IEDs, rather than against moving vehicles. The latter is the job usually handled by the M2 .50 BMG.]
10) The M24 sniper rifle: Thumbs up. Mostly in .308 but some in .300 Win Mag. Heavily modified Remington 700s. Great performance. Snipers have been used heavily to great effect. Rumor has it that a Marine sniper on his third tour in Anbar province has actually exceeded Carlos Hathcock’s record for confirmed kills with OVER 100. [JWR adds: The Army uses the M24. The marines use the M40. I believe that he may be mistaken about either being issued in 300 Win Mag. Perhaps somebody with “boots on the ground” in OIF can correct me if I’m wrong about this.]
11) The new body armor: Thumbs up. Relatively light at approximately six pounds and can reliably be expected to soak up small shrapnel and even will stop an AK-47 round. The bad news: Hot as s**t to wear, almost unbearable in the summer heat (which averages over 120 degrees). Also, the enemy now goes for head shots whenever possible. All the bullshit
about the “old” body armor making our guys vulnerable to the IEDs was a non-starter. The IED explosions are enormous and body armor doesn’t make any difference at all in most cases. [JWR adds: The weight of a full Interceptor armor system is more like 20 pounds.)
12) Night Vision and Infrared Equipment: Thumbs way up. Spectacular performance. Our guys see in the dark and own the night, period. Very little enemy action after evening prayers. More and more enemy being whacked at night during movement by our hunter-killer teams. We’ve all seen the videos.
13) Lights: Thumbs up. Most of the weapon mounted and personal lights are Surefires, and the troops love ’em. Invaluable for night urban operations. Jordan carried a $34 Surefire G2 on a neck lanyard and loved it.
I cant help but notice that most of the good fighting weapons and ordnance are 50 or more years old!!! With all our technology, it’s the WWII and Vietnam era weapons that everybody wants!!! The infantry fighting is frequent, up close and brutal. No quarter is given or shown.
Bad Guy Weapons and Equipment:
1) Mostly AK-47s. The entire country is an arsenal. Works better in the desert than the M16 and the 7.62 x 39mm Russian round kills reliably. PKM belt fed light machine guns are also common and effective. Luckily, the enemy mostly shoots like s**t. Undisciplined “spray and pray” type fire. However, they are seeing more and more precision weapons, especially sniper rifles. (Iran, again) Fun fact: Captured enemy have apparently marveled at the marksmanship of our guys and how hard they fight. They are apparently told in Jihad school that the Americans rely solely on technology, and can be easily beaten in close quarters combat for their lack of toughness. Let’s just say they know better now.
2) The RPG: Probably the infantry weapon most feared by our guys. Simple, reliable and as common as dog leavings. The enemy responded to our up-armored Humvees by aiming at the windshields, often at point blank range. Still killing a lot of our guys.
3) The IED: The biggest killer of all. Can be anything from old Soviet anti-armor mines to jury rigged artillery shells. A lot found in Jordan’s area were in abandoned cars. The enemy would take two or three 155mm artillery shells and wire them together. [Note from JWR: I think that he meant to write 130mm or 152mm (Russian). The 155mm is a U.S. artillery round, and the Iraqi insurgents wouldn’t have access to those.] Most were detonated by cell phone, and the explosions are enormous. You’re not safe in any vehicle, even an M1 tank. Driving is by far the most dangerous thing our guys do over there. Lately, they are much more sophisticated “shaped charges” (Iranian) specifically designed to penetrate armor. Fact: Most of the ready made IEDs are supplied by Iran, who is also providing terrorists (Hezbollah types) to train the insurgents in their use and tactics. That’s why the attacks have been so deadly lately. Their concealment methods are ingenious, the latest being shape charges in Styrofoam containers spray painted to look like the cinder blocks that litter all
Iraqi roads. We find about 40% before they detonate, and the bomb disposal guys are unsung heroes of this war.
4) Mortars and rockets: Very prevalent. The Soviet era 122mm rockets (with an 18 km range) are becoming more prevalent. One of Jordan’s NCOs lost a leg to one. These weapons cause a lot of damage “inside the wire”. Jordan’s base was hit almost daily his entire time there by mortar and rocket fire, often at night to disrupt sleep patterns and to cause fatigue (It did). More of a psychological weapon than anything else. The enemy mortar teams would jump out of vehicles, fire a few rounds, and then haul a** in a matter of seconds.
5) Bad guy technology: Simple yet effective. Most communication is by cell and satellite phones, and also by email on laptops. They use handheld GPS units for navigation and “Google earth” for overhead views of our positions. Their weapons are good, if not fancy, and prevalent. Their explosives and bomb technology is TOP OF THE LINE. Night vision is rare. They are very careless with their equipment and the captured GPS units and laptops are treasure troves of intel when captured.
Who are the bad guys?: Most of the carnage is caused by the Zarqawi Al Qaeda group. They operate mostly in Anbar province (Fallujah and Ramadi). These are mostly “foreigners”, non-Iraqi Sunni Arab Jihadists from all over the\ Muslim world (and Europe). Most enter Iraq through Syria (with, of course, the knowledge and complicity of the Syrian government), and then travel down the “rat line” which is the trail of towns along the Euphrates River that we’ve been hitting hard for the last few months. Some are virtually untrained young Jihadists that often end up as suicide bombers or in “sacrifice squads”. Most, however, are hard core terrorists from all the usual suspects (Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas etc.) These are the guys running around murdering civilians en masse and cutting heads off. The Chechens (many of whom are Caucasian), are supposedly the most ruthless and the best fighters. (they have been
fighting the Russians for years). In the Baghdad area and south, most of the insurgents are Iranian inspired (and led) Iraqi Shiites. The Iranian Shia have been very adept at infiltrating the Iraqi local governments, the police forces, and the Army. The have had a massive spy and agitator network there since the Iran-Iraq war in the early 80’s. Most of the Saddam loyalists were killed, captured or gave up long ago.
Bad Guy Tactics:
When they are engaged on an infantry level they get their asses kicked every time. Brave, but stupid. Suicidal Banzai-type charges were very common earlier in the war and still occur. They will literally sacrifice 8-10 man teams in suicide squads by sending them screaming and firing AKs and RPGs directly at our bases just to probe the defenses. They get mowed down like grass every time. (See the M2 and M240, above). Jordan’s base was hit like this often. When engaged, they have a tendency to flee to the same building, probably for what they think
will be a glorious last stand. Instead, we call in air and that’s the end of that more often than not. These hole-ups are referred to as Alpha Whiskey Romeo’s (Allah’s Waiting Room). We have the laser guided ground-air thing down to a science. The fast movers, mostly Marine F-18s, are taking an ever increasing toll on the enemy. When caught out in the open, the helicopter gunships and AC-130 Spectre gunships cut them to ribbons with cannon and rocket fire, especially at night. Interestingly, artillery is hardly used at all. Fun fact: The enemy death toll is supposedly between 45-50 thousand. That is why we’re seeing less and less infantry attacks and more IED, suicide bomber activity. The new strategy is simple: attrition.
The insurgent tactic most frustrating is their use of civilian non-combatants as cover. They know we do all we can to avoid civilian casualties and therefore schools, hospitals and especially Mosques are locations where they meet, stage for attacks, cache weapons and ammo and flee to when engaged. They have absolutely no regard whatsoever for civilian casualties. They will terrorize locals and murder without hesitation anyone believed to be sympathetic to the Americans or the new Iraqi government. Kidnapping of family members (especially children) is
common to influence people they are trying to influence but cannot reach, such as local government. officials, clerics, tribal leaders, etc.). The first thing our guys are told is “don’t get captured.” They know that if captured they will be tortured and beheaded on the Internet. Zarqawi openly offers bounties for anyone who brings him a live American serviceman. This motivates the criminal element who otherwise don’t give a s**t about the war. A lot of the beheading victims were actually kidnapped by common criminals and sold to Zarqawi. As such, for our guys, every fight is to the death. Surrender is not an option. The Iraqi’s are a mixed bag. Some fight well, others aren’t worth a s**t. Most do okay with American support. Finding leaders is hard, but they are getting better. It is widely viewed that Zarqawi’s use of suicide bombers, en masse, against the civilian population was a serious tactical mistake. Many Iraqi’s were galvanized and the caliber of recruits in the Army and the police forces went up, along with their motivation. It also led to an exponential increase in good intel because the Iraqi’s are sick of the insurgent attacks against civilians.
The Kurds are solidly pro-American and fearless fighters. According to Jordan, morale among our guys is very high. They not only believe they are winning, but that they are winning decisively. They are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them. The embedded reporters are despised and distrusted. They are inflicting casualties at a rate of 20-1 and then see s**t like “Are we losing in Iraq” on TV and the print media. For the most part, they are satisfied with their equipment, food and leadership. Bottom line though, and they all say this, there are not enough guys there to drive the final stake through the heart of the insurgency, primarily because there aren’t enough troops in-theater to shut down the borders with Iran and Syria. The Iranians and the Syrians just can’t stand the thought of Iraq being an American ally (with, of course, permanent US bases there).
JWR Replies: The foregoing letter has been largely discredited. DO NOT repost it!