I watched it burn for days. Four days straight before I had a one day break. Then I watched it smoldering for another three. Quite an odd sight to witness five thousand liters of gasoline going up in flames with an audible hiss as you roll past behind the thick glass of an armored vehicle.
As surreal as it was, I was hardly surprised. These delivery trucks rolled up the main supply route at least once a day and the insurgents enjoyed the luxury of initiative in choosing the time and place of attack. The methods and tactics might vary, but their purpose remained constant: deplete the Americans of their time, treasure and blood. In this case it was treasure. You see in the spring of 2007, the American surge offensive sought to secure the population centers and provide the people with a sense of normalcy, a return to life and business as usual.
In order to do this, the thoroughfares of commerce needed to be free from insurgent bombs, the ubiquitous Improvised Explosive Devices or IED’s that were chewing through armored HMMWV’s just as much as the unarmored pickup trucks provided to the local security forces. The IED’s were sapping American blood and treasure as well as putting the local economy at a standstill as the population feared taking their goods to market.
Thus arose the strategy; clear the roadways of these cursed IEDs and deny the enemy usage of dangerous ordnance against coalition forces and civilians alike. The execution of this strategy involved route clearance patrols, seven vehicle convoys, staffed with approximately twenty-four personnel (give or take), to go forth and scout the roads for any sign of IEDs and render them harmless. The convoys moved along the roads at a mind numbing 5-7 miles per hour, visually sifting through road debris, trash and previous blast craters for any signs of possible threats.
Of course the insurgents could see the patrol coming from miles away. There was no element of surprise factored into this strategy. The insurgents also maintained the initiative in using virtually anything to conceal their destructive hardware; rubble, litter and even animal carcasses. The road scouts needed discerning eyes, great suspicion and a whole lot of patience to be effective.
They also needed time. Every halt to the convoy only delayed the movement of other patrols, logistics deliveries and civilians trying to get back to normal life. Yet overlooking an IED disguised in a burlap bag (commonly used for rice or potatoes) could mean a downed vehicle or the loss of life and limb.
Caution or speed? Only because you cannot have both, a decision must be made and it was the insurgent that thrust that decision upon the road scouts. Failure to choose correctly meant that the bomber was free to fire his ambush upon the passing vehicles at his leisure.
A “mobility kill” on a vehicle or an injury to a soldier were both acceptable victories. Destroying a vehicle and halting a convoy accomplished two of the insurgent’s objectives: chewing up American time and treasure.
Send out another convoy with a wrecker to haul back the downed vehicle while the first patrol stands by in a defensive perimeter. No matter, its all to the advantage of the insurgent.
How many man hours, how many dollars in repairs did the attack cost? How much fuel did the Americans burn running these patrols? What did it cost the insurgent?
How much fuel did these route clearance patrols burn with their seven vehicle convoys only in the hopes of keeping the roads cleared for more multi-vehicle convoys to deliver more fuel so as to keep these, among other, mounted patrols rolling?
Five thousand liters burned for this one week at the hands of an insurgent attack, yet many thousands if not millions more were burned while American strategy danced to the insurgents tune.
Did I have to wonder why gas prices back in the States were at record highs? I only needed to look out across the desert plains from behind armored glass to realize I was riding a geopolitical merry-go-round.
A war for oil? Perhaps in the converse. Or perhaps the strategy didn’t look that far ahead.