Last week, it was announced that three U.S. Navy SEALs face criminal charges after they mistreated Ahmed Hashim Abed, the alleged mastermind of the ambush of four Blackwater security contractors in March of 2004.
I thought you all might be interested in what happened to those four Americans. So, here is an excerpt from my upcoming book, New Dawn.
The war had never really ended in Fallujah, even though Saddam’s regime was quickly deposed in the spring of 2003. Subsequently the All Americans of the 82nd Airborne Division had been given the onerous mission of securing the restive town of Fallujah, thirty miles west of Baghdad; unfortunately, they never had enough combat power to clear the city of an increasing number of enemy fighters.
Death to Americans
On the morning of March 31, 2004, three empty flatbed trucks snaked their way out of the heavily guarded north gate at CAMP FALLUJAH. When Wesley Batalona reached the main road, he turned left onto a modern, four-lane highway that stretched west toward the heart of the city. Soon Batalona saw freeway signs indicating a large intersection. A modern-day cloverleaf, much like you would find in America, lay directly ahead on the outskirts of the turbulent city. Batalona had planned on meeting local Iraqi defense forces at the Cloverleaf. They were to escort his handful of trucks through Fallujah. The tiny convoy drove under the overpass and rolled to a stop at the Marines’ newly inhabited TCP-1.
Batalona and three other private security contractors traveled in two Mitsubishi SUVs. They had been given the thankless assignment of protecting the flatbeds as they moved to retrieve old kitchen equipment from a base west of Fallujah. Wesley Batalona, a former sergeant in the elite U.S. Army Rangers, was in charge of security. Jerry Zovko, a 38-year-old Croatian-American and fellow former Ranger, rode shotgun in the lead vehicle with Batalona. Scott Helvenston, an ex-Navy SEAL, drove the second SUV behind the three flatbeds, with Michael Teague, a Bronze Star recipient and veteran of the fighting in Panama, Afghanistan and Granada, riding as his gunner.
These four American Blackwater contractors provided the only protection for this low-priority mission. Batalona’s team was severely under-manned and under-armed; before being relieved by the Marines, the U.S. Army would not enter the city with anything less than four heavily armored vehicles, bristling with soldiers in full combat gear and weapons. Army and Marine forays into Fallujah were often wrought with danger. More often than not the soldiers would withdraw under gunfire. Just a day earlier the Marines had fought a ferocious firefight in the city. Yet on this day the Iraqi escorts, traveling in two dilapidated pickup trucks, led the four lightly armed civilian security contractors and their ‘thin-skinned’ sport utility vehicles into the most dangerous city in Iraq. Trusting these Iraqis was like leaving the wolves to guard the sheep: their loyalties were, at best, questionable.
Batalona should have realized that he was approaching Hell the minute he entered the city. Unemployed military-aged men loitered on the garbage-strewn main thoroughfare. The deeper the convoy went into the city, the worse things got. Stares and frowns turned to jeers and hand gestures. As they drove down the congested highway, traffic slowed to a crawl. Suddenly, the streets became eerily quiet. The Iraqi escorts slammed on their brakes, forcing Batalona to grind his vehicles to a stop.
The beleaguered convoy had driven almost two thirds of the way through the city when all hell broke loose. Gunfire erupted from nearby buildings, directed at the rear vehicle. Helvenston and Teague never had a chance to respond, as bullets ripped through their SUV, killing or mortally wounding them in the first bursts of gunfire.
As soon as the shooting started, the two Iraqi escort vehicles sped away. Batalona made a quick U-turn and slammed his accelerator to the floor, but collided with an Iraqi civilian’s Toyota; his SUV skidded to a stop. Another group of armed men rushed the scene of the collision, spraying that vehicle too with automatic weapon gunfire. Batalona and Zovko slumped over, dead in their seats. The shooting stopped as quickly as it had begun; the attackers slipped away into the city.
Insurgents with video cameras rushed to the scene to film the carnage—evidence of their latest victory over the infidel. Young boys, teenagers and old men swarmed the convoy, pouring gasoline on the vehicles. Flames erupted, and soon both SUVs were engulfed, thick black smoke rising from the inferno. The smoke drew an even larger mob to the scene, and soon everyone was in a frenzy. The cameras were rolling as the fire subsided. Four charred corpses were pulled from the smoldering ruins. The mob beat the bodies repeatedly with sticks and shoes—kicking, mutilating, and dragging them through the streets. Two of the Americans were hoisted up on Fallujah’s green steel footbridge and left to hang for the world to see. The celebrations continued until after dark.
Meanwhile the Marines could only watch in horror the streaming video coming from their UAV. The Marine commanders made the heartbreaking decision to not deploy Marines to the ambush site. They knew that the American contractors were already dead, and that further intervention would only lead to more bloodshed. Instead, they decided to let the riot burn itself out.
Main Supply Route (MSR) Michigan, or Highway 10.
Traffic Control Point. TCP-1 had been established months earlier by the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division to control access in and out of the city.
Elite US Navy commandos. Their name is an acronym indicating the different ways they can be deployed: SEa, Air and Land.
Blackwater, Inc., is a North Carolina-based private security firm. Most of its employees are retired military. They have provided private security specialists since the beginning of the war in Iraq.
This account of the Blackwater ambush is taken from Patrick Toohay’s, published on newsobserver.com, November 28, 2005.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
Richard S. Lowry is a military historian and the award-winning author of Marines in the Garden of Eden and The Gulf War Chronicles. Watch for his new book: New Dawn: the Battles for Fallujah. It tells the entire story of Operation Phantom Fury and will be in bookstores in May of 2010. Visit www.RichardSLowry.com to learn more about Richard and his work.