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The Karbala Gap mission pt.1

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  • The Karbala Gap mission pt.1

    Interview with Lt. Col. Ernest "Rock" Marcone.

    "Marcone is battalion commander of the 69th Armor of the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade. His unit has been described as the "tip of the tip of the spear" in the advance toward Saddam International Airport on April 3-4. Marcone's brigade also successfully fought off a counterattack on a key bridge the night of April 2. In the following excerpts from his interview he details these operations and talks about how his forces expected -- and were prepared for -- Iraqi chemical weapons as they advanced through the Karbala Gap."

    The Karbala Gap mission

    The Karbala Gap spans an area of land about a mile wide, between a lake and the city of Karbala. The Army began crossing the Gap on April 2 as it approached Baghdad from the southwest. They found scant traces of an Iraqi defense, and suspected that the area had been cleared in advance of a chemical attack.

    So in practice, [your battalion is engaged in] reconnaissance by course, movement to contact?

    Exactly, and that's what my mission was as the advance guard. I was conducting movement contact to find the enemy, fix them and kill them, and allow the units behind me to move unimpeded as quickly as possible to the critical ground, which was east of the Euphrates River, once I got the bridge at Objective Peach. Once I was east of the river, it was over.

    Now as you're sitting at the poise to get through the Karbala Gap, at that point, this is where everyone is expecting the mother of all battles. Perhaps at this point we can address the question of weapons of mass destruction and what you had been told about them -- your expectations of them, and how that played in your psyche and the psyche of your men?

    We were definitely worried about it. If there were one place where he could have used chemical weapons very successfully, it was at the Karbala Gap, because from the body of water from the west to the edge of the urban sprawl of Karbala itself in the east, it was only 1,900 meters, which is not a very large gap. There were two large dams -- not really bridges. They were earthen dams that we had seized and secured in order to pass the rest of the 1st Brigade and the rest of the division. So there was a great opportunity there to set the conditions early.

    He could have shot it early, or try to get us with chemical weapons whilst we were moving. However, that would have taken a large amount of artillery -- a large amount of ammunitions to really seal that gap off. If we were moving as quickly as I anticipated us moving, that would be very difficult.

    We had all kinds of measures ready. We had special guidelines, we had protocols in place for what we would call "counterbattery fire" for our rocket artillery, if we were to shoot ammunition. The best way to deliver [a counterattack] would usually be by helicopter spray and by artillery. So we had our artillery ready and poised and our radars ready. If anything would've been shot in that gap, there would be mortar fire going back immediately, and we would have destroyed a lot of his capability to keep shooting and keep receiving that type of ammunition. Plus, speed is also a form of defense.

    If you'd been in [the enemy's] shoes, what would you have done?

    I would have defended the river line, because Karbala Gap itself -- if you seize the gap, you still don't win. You've got to get across the river. You hold the river line, you never get to Baghdad, you never cross the river, you can't win. You seize Karbala Gap, you seize a very good troop point for us, for our lines of communication. Key terrain? Yes. Decisive terrain? No. The river line was, and to hold it.
    I wanted to know more and now i share what i found.
    Only Tearful, Animal Man Through the Nature of his Being is Destined to
    a Life of Warfare...

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