FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

They Were Waiting for Chicken Tenders When the Round Hit

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.

 

More articles by:

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

April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail