FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

They Were Waiting for Chicken Tenders When the Round Hit

by PATRICK COCKBURN

in Baghdad
and JEREMY REDMON in Mosul

An explosion in a US Army mess tent at lunchtime in a base near the northern city of Mosul killed at least 26 people and wounded 60 others in one of the most lethal attacks on American forces in Iraq since the invasion. The dead included US troops, American and foreign contractors and Iraqi security troops.

The force of the explosion knocked soldiers off their feet and out of their seats. A fireball enveloped the top of the tent, and shrapnel sprayed into the diners. Amid the screaming and thick smoke, soldiers turned their lunch tables upside down, placed the wounded on them and gently carried them into the parking lot. “Medic! Medic!” soldiers shouted. Medics rushed into the tent and hustled the rest of the wounded out on stretchers.

Outside, scores of troops crammed into concrete bomb shelters. Others wobbled around the tent and collapsed, dazed by the blast. “I can’t hear! I can’t hear!” one female soldier cried as a friend hugged her.

Near the front entrance to the canteen, troops tended a soldier with a gaping head wound. Within minutes, they zipped him into a black body bag. Three more bodies were in the parking lot.

Soldiers scrambled back into the hall to check for more wounded. The explosion blew out a huge hole in the roof of the tent. Puddles of bright red blood, lunch trays and overturned tables and chairs covered the floor.

Grim-faced soldiers growled angrily and cursed as they worked on the wounded. Sergeant Evan Byler steadied himself on one of the concrete bomb shelters. He was eating chicken tenders and macaroni when the bomb hit. The blast knocked him out of his chair. When the smoke cleared, Sgt Byler took off his shirt and wrapped it around a seriously wounded soldier.

After the wounded man was taken away, the NCO held the bloody shirt in his hand, not quite sure what to do with it. “It’s not the first close call I have had here,” said Sgt Byler, from Virginia. He survived a blast from an improvised explosive device while riding in a vehicle this year.

The heavy American losses are likely to lead to inquiries about why so many soldiers were crowded into the mess tent. The US Army said there had been a single explosion but did not know if it was caused by a suicide bomber, a rocket or a mortar round. The militant group Ansar al-Sunna later claimed it had made a suicide attack. Insurgents have fired mortars at the chow hall more than 30 times this year. One round killed a female soldier with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in the summer as she scrambled for cover. Workers are building a new steel and concrete chow hall for the soldiers down the dusty dirt road.

Lieutenant Dawn Wheeler, of Richmond-based 276th Engineer Battalion, was waiting in line for chicken tenders when a round hit on the other side of a wall from her. A soldier who had been standing beside her was on the ground, with shrapnel buried deep in his neck. “We all have angels on us,” she said as she pulled away in a Humvee. The officer quickly joined other officers from the 276th for an emergency meeting minutes after the blast.

Major James Zollar, the unit’s acting commander, spoke to more than a dozen of his officers in a voice thick with emotion. He urged them to keep their troops focused on their missions. “This is a tragic, tragic thing for us but we still have missions,” he told them. “It’s us, the leaders, who have to pull them together.” Major Zollar eventually turned the emergency meeting over to Chaplain Eddie Barnett. He led the group in prayer. “Help us now, God, in this time of this very tragic circumstance,” the padre said. “We pray for your healing upon our wounded soldiers.” With heads hung low, the soldiers trudged outside. They had work to do.

The US military position in northern Iraq has been deteriorating rapidly in the past two months. During the first nine months of the occupation, Mosul was portrayed as a model for the rest of Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division firmly in charge. Guerrilla warfare was slower to develop and was not as well organised as further south in Fallujah and in the Sunni Arab provinces around Baghdad.

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 08, 2016
John W. Whitehead
Power to the People: John Lennon’s Legacy Lives On
Mike Whitney
Rolling Back the Empire: Washington’s Proxy-Army Faces Decisive Defeat in Aleppo
Ellen Brown
“We’ll Look at Everything:” More Thoughts on Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan
John Stauber
The Rise and Fall of Obamacare: Will the Inside Story Ever be Told?
Ted Rall
Ameri-Splaining
Michael J. Sainato
Mainstream Media Continues Absolving Itself From Clinton, Trump Election Failures
Ralph Nader – Mark Green
Divest or Face Impeachment: an Open Letter to Donald Trump
Gareth Porter
US Airstrikes on Syrian Troops: Report Data Undermine Claim of “Mistake”
Martha Burke
What Trumponomics Means for Women
Ramzy Baroud
Fatah, Hold Your Applause: Palestinian Body Politic Rotten to the Core
Steve Horn
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General Pick, Introduced First Bill Exempting Fracking from Drinking Water Rules
Joe Ware
The Big Shift: Why Banks Need to Stop Investing Our Money Into Fossil Fuels
Juliana Barnet
On the Ground at Standing Rock
Franklin Lamb
Aleppo Update: An Inspiring Return to the Bombed Out National Museum
Steve Kelly
Hidden Harmony: on the Perfection of Forests
December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba After Fidel
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewal of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail