In their first combat outside Polish borders since the end of World War II, the Polish Army took part in combat on Iraqi’s territorial waters in March, 2003. The secret mission was a joint operation of SEAL and GROM operators.
Just before the attack on Iraq, Polish GROM was to take over the oil terminal in Umm Qasr port. It was a crucial task because destruction or any damage to the premises could contaminate the Persian Gulf and close off access to the only open maritime Iraqi port. Soon this port played a major role in the delivery of supplies for the allies fighting Saddam Hussein.
The operation itself was a turning point for GROM, which had been created a few years before. The time to prove its worth finally came. We wanted to show that we were one of the best Special Forces in the world. A moment came to show the unit’s combat value in a real battle. Taking over the offshore terminal KAAOT was a very important target for Americans and their allies. Port Umm Qasr was strategic in the conflict due to its location.
The cooperation between GROM and SEALS was very good from the start. There was a lot of common training, experience exchange and mutual learning that lead to a true partnership. At the initial stage, the operation in Iraq concentrated mainly on the Persian Gulf. GROM and SEALS conducted many boarding operations on vessels breaking the embargo on Iraqi oil.
The plan was created in three steps. Three teams had three ideas. The ideas were compared to see what the pros and cons of each ewere. The commander, “WODZU” (“The Chief”), had a right to choose the option. His decision was an attack with a minimum number of entry points, and he didn’t make a mistake. The plan was accepted by our American partners in full. No one changed a thing.
The plan took into account every situation, including weather conditions. If the waters were to be rough, making it impossible for the boats to set off, helicopters were ready to transport people onto the platform.
The next step was to practice the operation a hundred times. GROM built its own, almost life-sized, training platform. Obviously, it did not include every small detail, but all the necessary entrances and rooms, as well as the hotel, part were in place. The training platform was in the desert and the team was able to practice every detail of every scenario, including the approach and airborne operations. They could train entering, behaviors and procedures. It was numerous hours of dry training and developing muscle memory.
The size of the real platform, almost 1,000 meters in length, was huge indeed! It contained several dozen rooms and a pumping station, with metal throughout. Everybody knew that it was crucial to be extra careful with guns as there was oil and gas nearby.
Until the last moment, it wasn’t certain if the Polish government would give a green light. Minutes after that, the team set off in the direction of the terminal. Almost simultaneously, another SEAL team was aborting a similar platform. Both groups acted as a QRF support for each other.
It took a few hours for Marc 5 and RHIBs to approach the terminal. At the same time, snipers were transported to helicopters that were patrolling the gulf. They were also covering the team during the operation. For a long time on board they had to be invisible. The aim was to secure the pipe and take over the entire platform. The whole operation on board was transmitted through the cameras in the helicopters.
Our leaders knew exactly what they were doing, constantly keeping in mind not to break any rules or cross any boundaries. They had to check all those rooms with double-sealed doors. Only after that were they able to give it over to the American Marines.
The most difficult and the most crucial part of the operation took several minutes. After that came time for the hotel section – about 40 minutes – and finally the engine room. By that time the heat had become unbearable. The whole operation took nearly 7 hours. Almost 20 armed but totally surprised Iraqis were apprehended. They had been prepared, but not for such a daring action.
Since the assault on the platform, the voices questioning the class of GROM operators and its place in the world’s Special Forces have disappeared. After the action, its soldiers took part in two other important tasks. The joint action with SEAL operators lasted for almost 72 hours. Donald Rumsfeld, then Secretary of Defense, described the action as “a wonderful job.”
During fights for Umm Qasr, from March 20 until March 25, 2003, almost 14 soldiers of the allied army lost their lives and nearly 40 from the Saddam Hussein army. 450 Iraqis were taken as prisoners. The road to Iraq was open.
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