As the 2nd BCT conducts their search operations, they encounter small arms fire and the deadly missiles known as rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs. Similar attacks had been going on all morning, and the streets were eerily absent of civilians — a telling sign in these neighborhoods, where children play soccer in the streets when they know it is safe.
Soldiers on the ground had just reported contact with the enemy, when the two Apaches located a sizable group of military-aged men sauntering through a nearby neighborhood. The pilots and gunners of the helicopters circle the group from 800 meters away, well within the range of their weapons, but outside the range where the group might easily notice them.
The pilot in the trailing Apache notices a group of men, and the camera focuses on them just before a pair of Mahdi Army scouts slip away on a moped. The crews call out their confirmation of visible weapons in the group, and the camera clearly captures at least one man carrying an AK-pattern assault rifle, and another beside him carrying a RPG launcher with a live rocket locked in place. A third man cradles another rocket under his arm.
Two men, whom we later discover are a Reuters cameraman and his driver, are mixed in with the gang as familiars — wearing the same kind of clothes, their slung cameras appearing as yet more weapons to helicopter crews with already clearly identified targets.
As they circle, the gang of journalists and terrorists group at the corner of a building. The photographer takes one step around the corner into the alleyway and crouches — pointing his camera’s large telephoto lens at a U.S. Humvee parked just a few hundred yards away. The pilots, fearing an attack on the U.S. vehicle (and one mistakenly seeing what he thought was the flash of a rocket launch), swing around the building and open fire on the tightly clustered militiamen, cutting them down in a spray of concrete, dust, and blood.
Two men sprint out of the cloud. One escapes cleanly. Another is cut down with finality in a second burst of fire.
The pilots circle, and another man emerges running from the dust and debris, and is struck down, wounded.
This is the first of three engagements for Crazy Horse 18 and Crazy Horse 19 that morning in the slums of New Baghdad. The pilots, primarily tasked with saving American and Iraqi lives from insurgent action, are now accosted by WikiLeaks for failing to discern camera-carrying journalists from militants. WikiLeaks would judge these pilots murderers for following the rules of war, and destroying an enemy force without first interviewing the armed group to discern intent. Their charges of impropriety ring hollow.
The further hot air and rhetoric of WikiLeaks will be addressed in Part Two.