The first Det One Marines landed in Baghdad on April 6, 2004. Fallujah had flared up only a short time before, with the killing and mutilation of the Blackwater contractors, and the Shi’a Sadrist rebellion was driving up from the south. There was plenty of work to be done.
However, it wasn’t nearly as simple as getting on the ground and operating. While the Det was working for SOCOM, the initial agreement between SOCOM and the Marine Corps was that the Det would be supported by the Marine Corps, not SOCOM. However, the security situation on the roads around Baghdad had deteriorated to the point that the Marines were effectively cut off from I MEF. They had to scrounge and beg from the NSW and Special Forces units they were stationed with.
Most of the counterintelligence Marines were farmed out to other elements of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Arabian Peninsula. The Recon Element, now known as Task Unit Raider, remained intact in Baghdad. While the vehicle, ammunition, and logistics situation got sorted out (which included the necessity of Capt. Matthew Kress having to go down to Kuwait to physically locate several cargo containers of ammunition that had gotten lost), Task Unit Raider trained, practicing CQB tactics and flow drills in structures of native construction. Buildings in Iraq are made with different materials and rules than those in the states, and it was a new experience to many of the Marines.
Meanwhile, the operations section was working hard on targeting. The Det’s chief purpose in Iraq was Direct Action: killing or capturing bad guys in fast raids. But the first objective turned into a comedy of errors.
Originally labeled “Objective Rhino,” the target was a large concentration of insurgents to the west of Baghdad. The warning order dropped from Combined Joint Task Force 7, the highest command in Iraq. The Marines, with the help of soldiers from 2nd Bn, 5th Special Forces Group, began to examine the terrain and develop intel on the situation. Further information continued to narrow down the target, which was renamed “Objective Rat.” Finally, the target building was identified, at which point the entire mission was shelved. The target was Abu Ghraib Prison. How exactly CJTF 7’s intel section misidentified the chief detention facility in the country for an insurgent stronghold is unclear, but while it highlighted coordination and communications problems, it helped the Det One Marines to strengthen their relationship with their brother units in SOCOM and adjacent in the area.
The first real mission came in an unexpected form. Word was passed that a female Iraqi working contract on Coalition bases was suspected of passing information to the insurgency. That information had resulted in the murders of several of the contractor’s linguists. This was not only damaging Coalition operations, it was damaging the trust between the locals and US forces. “Rachel,” as the Iraqi woman was called, had to be taken in and interrogated.
GySgt John Dailey, Recon Team 4’s Team Leader, took lead, bringing GySgt William Johnston from the counter-intelligence section, a SEAL assigned to HUMINT duties, and a female member of Polish GROM. The female GROM operative would be essential in capturing an Iraqi woman. All four were dressed in civilian clothes, concealing soft armor and pistols, with their M4s concealed in their vehicles.
Proceeding to “Rachel’s” last place of employment, they were informed that she no longer worked there, but had shifted to a base outside the city. Dailey contacted Maj Kozeniesky and Commander Wilson, wanting to continue following up. They quickly gave him permission, and the four of them proceeded to the new site.
There they were told the same thing. “Rachel” had moved to a different site. At the third site, they were told she had quit. Speaking to the US Army officer she had worked for, they devised a simple plan, where the officer called her and told her she needed to come pick up her last paycheck. She readily agreed, saying she would be there in 20 minutes. “20 minutes” is an extremely flexible time in Iraq, and can mean anything from 20 minutes to sometime in the next week. While they waited, GySgt Dailey met with the base commander to bring him into the loop on the operation. He was unsure how much the commander believed he was who he said he was, being in civilian attire with a fairly non-Marine haircut, but the commander agreed to cooperate anyway.
Dailey knew that “Rachel” would likely have a male escort; most places in Iraq, women are not supposed to move around by themselves. He was concerned about what to do about the escort, not wanting to get into a firefight on a US base with far too many bystanders around to get hit if the bullets started flying. He stationed himself and the SEAL outside to deal with the escort, while GySgt Johnston and the female GROM member waited inside.
The trap went like clockwork. As soon as “Rachel” entered the door, the female GROM operative was on her and subdued her. Dailey and the SEAL subdued and flex-cuffed the escort. They bundled the two detainees into their vehicles and headed back to Camp Myler. Once in interrogation, it quickly became apparent that “Rachel” had not knowingly passed information to the insurgents; she just talked too much. The escort, similarly, was not an insurgent, but offered valuable information on the linguists’ murderers, as well as several IED operations.
One of these IED makers became the focus of the next mission, code-named “Objective Racket.” The target worked as a repairman, was involved in the murders, and helped with the construction of expedient rocket launchers for the insurgents.
At 0100 on May 4, Task Unit Raider rolled out of Camp Myler, headed for the targets. They would hit both Objective Racket’s home and shop simultaneously. Teams 2 and 3, led by MSgt Joseph Morrison and MSgt Charles Padilla, would hit the residence; Teams 1 and 6, led by MSgt Wyrick and GySgt Voss, would hit the shop. Teams 4 and 5 provided drivers and gunners. Overhead, an AC-130 and two HH-60 Blackhawks provided top cover.
At the residence, ladders went up over the compound walls and Team 3 swarmed over. The Navy EOD tech attached to the team saw someone moving in a first-floor window, and reached through the lattice to grab him, keeping him from sounding the alarm or going for a weapon. Then the teams explosively breached the door and went in. At the same time, 0129, Team 1 shotgun-breached the shop doors. The Marines flooded the house, and the occupants surrendered without a fight. The source, “Rachel’s” escort from before, had been brought along, and one of the males in the house was brought out, where the source identified him as the target. However, the Blackhawks reported that one individual had jumped from roof to roof to the adjacent house. MSgt Morrison’s Team 2 rapidly breached and entered the house, finding the man waiting with his hands up. This man was then identified as “Objective Racket;” the other was his brother-in-law, and was released. By 0206, the hits were done, sensitive site exploitation was finished, and the Marines were loaded up and leaving the target areas. Just over half an hour on target.
The “Rachel” and “Racket” operations, one following less than 48 hours after the other, showed that the Marines of MCSOCOM Detachment One could take a single bit of information and use it as a base to build a solid target package leading to the capture of a high value target. Maj Kozeniesky concluded, “While [Rachel] and last night’s evolution [Racket] were noteworthy events in the history of the detachment and the Marine Corps, we look forward to the time when it is all considered ‘ops normal’ for the Raiders.”