Monday, June 14, 2004

Mercenaries believed to be from Chechnya are suspected of carrying out the deadly ambush of civilian security contractors on a road outside Baghdad earlier this month.

The attackers killed four civilians working with Blackwater USA. Three contractors who managed to escape concluded that the assault was the work of trained gunmen.

If so, said a former U.S. Special Forces fighter recently in Baghdad, “this opens a whole other can of worms for the coalition to deal with.”

It also means that contractors would need more sophisticated and heavier weaponry to fight off better armed terrorists, the former soldier said.

The attack occurred June 6 and is recorded in the survivors’ reports.

A seven-man team was driving to the airport in two sport utility vehicles. Four persons were in the second vehicle.

After passing the first of several overpasses, traveling at the usual speed for U.S. vehicles of about 75 mph, six local cars merged along their right side — not unusual in that strip of road.

Then, without warning, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the rear SUV on the front passenger side, putting it out of action and setting it on fire. The driver just managed to bring the vehicle to a controlled stop, and the other vehicle stopped to help.

Two Pajero SUVs being driven by the attackers stopped some 100 yards in front and opened fire with Russian-designed PKM belt-fed machine guns, using armor-piercing and incendiary rounds.

The rounds destroyed the engine of the first vehicle.

The team leader decided to abandon the first vehicle, when the attackers in the other four SUVs, still driving, made a 180-degree turn on the road and came back for another pass.

Numbering about 20 people, the attackers then opened fire from about 30 yards. Attackers and contractors traded fire, with the contractors still being hit with the belt-fed machine gun.

Going through many magazines of ammunition, the contractors desperately threw nearly a dozen grenades at the attackers — which the survivors believe was the only thing that halted the onslaught.

The attackers stopped, collected their dead and wounded, and left.

During the gunfight, the driver of lead vehicle took a bullet to the head, two in his legs and got fragmentation wounds on his face. But he continued to fight, running hundreds of yards in full gear and accounting for his men. He survived.

Another surviving team member was shot three times but charged the enemy vehicles anyway, shooting until the attack was over. The third survivor made it out unharmed.

The four who died “went out hard,” said the report. There were thousands of shell casings, and two of the bodies were draped over their guns, still aimed at the attackers.

The other two were killed as they tried to get out of their vehicle. All died of massive gunshot wounds.

Professional analysis of the incident concluded that the attackers were well-trained and were most likely Syrian or Chechen hired guns. They wanted to survive and not leave any bodies.

“The ambush on the [airport] highway was done by Chechen imports. Very switched on and well experienced,” said the former Special Forces member.

“Hitting a moving car at [72 mph], plus from another moving car, with an RPG is no small feat … [and] the fact that they policed up their dead [and] wounded and all the weapons also indicates their level of professionalism.

“I personally don’t think they were good Muslims doing their jihad duties, or politically motivated. I think they were high-tech, highly trained mercenaries in it for the bucks.”

He said that contractors — frequently used to complement U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, were in “survival mode” when it came to the equipment they needed to do their jobs.

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