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Embedded Reporter Describes Anti-insurgency Crackdown

March 23, 2007 at 6:15 PM EDT

JULIAN MANYON: These are some of the most dangerous streets in the world.

In an American armored Humvee, we drove into the Sunni stronghold of Ghazaliya in west Baghdad. Here, any car could contain a bomb. Inside a cordon of tanks, U.S. troops were rapidly building a new combat outpost. It’s part of the surge to clear and hold violent areas.

This Iraqi family had just been told to leave their home to make way for the new base.

The Americans have told them they must leave.

WOMAN (through translator): What would you feel if you were suddenly told to get out of your house? Tell me, what would you feel?

JULIAN MANYON: Nearby, fortifications were going up. American troops had cleared the houses they were taking over, and looters were hard at work.

What is the reaction of the local people, because, frankly, as we turned up, they — they didn’t seem terribly happy?

1ST LIEUTENANT MICHAEL OBAN, 1st Cavalry Division: Well, probably not. I mean, we haven’t received very much happiness from this sector the entire time we have been here. This is a place that has been really war-torn. It’s got quite a bit of insurgent elements here. And the people are pretty brutalized. We find quite a bit of tortured and dead bodies here all the time.

Hoping to survive

JULIAN MANYON: The plan is to base troops among the Iraqi population to try to bring law and order -- backing them up, massive armored firepower.

But some of the troops admit that their main aim is simply survival.

SPECIALIST ERIC BUSHNELL, 1st Cavalry Division: My hopes? I hope to get home alive.

JULIAN MANYON: As simple as that?

SPECIALIST ERIC BUSHNELL: Back to my family, yes.

JULIAN MANYON: Are you worried that that might not happen?

SPECIALIST ERIC BUSHNELL: I guess, sometimes, yes, I get nervous.

JULIAN MANYON: The insurgent attack came without warning. A mortar shell landed on a roof next to the new American command post.

MAN: Take cover!

JULIAN MANYON: Soldiers ran for shelter. And, as I looked for cover, another mortar round slammed in. There were no casualties. But one American soldier expressed anger at what he saw as Iraqi ingratitude.

STAFF SERGEANT LIONEL HERNANDES, 1st Cavalry Division: Sometimes, it upsets me, because we try to help them. We try to give them out, help, give them a lending hand, and they don't want it.

JULIAN MANYON: What does that actually mean? Does that mean that maybe this operation, it's not going to succeed?

STAFF SERGEANT LIONEL HERNANDES: It will succeed. It is going to succeed. We got everything, everything that we need to make -- to help the Iraqi people.

Casino outpost

JULIAN MANYON: In the sprawling American base next to Baghdad Airport, we mounted out, our destination one of the new joint security stations that are at the heart of the U.S. Army's surge. Its name is Casino.

In the days of Saddam, the journey we are making was a 15-minute taxi ride. Now the U.S. Army can only do it in an armored convoy.

Casino is a group of 45 houses, where 100 American soldiers live packed together. We lived with them here for four days. Beyond the blast walls is hostile territory, which the Americans must try to pacify.

CAPTAIN ERIK PETERSON, Commander, Casino Outpost: I have planted my flag right here. I'm not going anywhere, as an American. I'm not leaving any time soon.

JULIAN MANYON: Eleven p.m., and 1st Platoon gets ready for a night raid. In total darkness, we join the main force for what is supposed to be a joint operation with the Iraqi army.

But the Americans haven't told the Iraqis the plan, because they don't trust them. And the result is confusion.

LIEUTENANT ERIC KLAPPMEIER, 1st Cavalry Division: Yes, they kind of get out of their vehicles and stand around. But that's just kind of luck of the draw. Some units are on their A-game. Some units are still learning.

Risking injury or death

JULIAN MANYON: Houses are broken into, residents in this Sunni area woken up. But, this time, they find nothing.

One of the young soldiers at Casino is 20-year-old Specialist Dustin Brockberg. The son of a well-off medical family, he told me that he joined up because he wanted to serve his country after the 9/11 terrorist attack.

What do your parents feel about all this?

SPECIALIST DUSTIN BROCKBERG, 1st Cavalry Division: They don't like it, no.

JULIAN MANYON: What have they said to you?




JULIAN MANYON: For the Americans, the risk of injury or death is always in the background. Dustin Brockberg knows that his next patrol could just be his last.

Are there moments where you just don't want to go out through the door?

SPECIALIST DUSTIN BROCKBERG: No, because everyone has been training to do this. And you got to just man up and do your job.

JULIAN MANYON: Soon after we left, a massive bomb blasted another patrol. Private William Davis and three other soldiers were killed.