A six second video recorded of an April 2008 terrorist attack in Ramadi explains why the city fell without a fight to ISIS last week.
The story behind the video was shared in a speech given two years after the attack by Marine Corps Lt. General John Kelly. At the time of the 2008 incident, Kelly commanded all U.S. and Iraqi forces.
A suicide attack against a Marine compound caused the deaths of two Marines guarding its entrance. General Kelly obtained a security video of what took place that fatal morning. Lasting only six seconds, the attack was most telling not only about the two Marines but also about their Iraqi counterparts—all of whom were entrusted to protect the Marines and Iraqi soldiers inside the compound.
The six-second clock begins ticking as a truck enters an alleyway and starts needling its way through concrete jersey walls. Doing so, it picks up speed, heading for the compound entrance. The Marines’ order to stop goes unheeded. The realization a terrorist attack is in progress immediately sinks in.
Standing their ground, the two Marines fire at the vehicle. Their Iraqi security counterparts initially fire but, as the truck continues towards them, run for safety past the fighting Marines.
Still, the Marines make no effort to move outside the path of the explosive-laden truck, knowing they alone stand between those inside the compound— and certain death. Putting out a wall of fire, they focus solely on protecting their fellow Marines and Iraqi allies. Their rounds shatter the truck’s windshield, killing the driver. Stopping just short of the entrance, the truck immediately detonates, instantly killing the two Marine defenders. Not a single Iraqi “defender” dies. CBS has released part of the video here.
Kelly, who scrutinized the video closely, paid tribute to the last seconds of the two Marines’ lives, observing they “never hesitated… they never stepped back”:
They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only one second left to live. The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God. Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty into eternity…
The blast size suggested 2000 pounds of explosives were used—500 pounds shy of the amount used in 1983 by the suicide truck-bomber who destroyed the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, killing 242 U.S. servicemen.
It was so severe, a mosque 100 yards away collapsed and 24 brick masonry homes were damaged or destroyed. Had the truck penetrated the compound, there is no telling how many of its 150 occupants would have been killed or wounded. But those inside were saved because, as Kelly noted, “two young infantrymen didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger.”
Iraqis on the scene said they thought the two Marines would also run “like any normal man would to save his life.” Acknowledging the Marines’ actions had saved them all, one emotional Iraqi guard observed, “no sane man would have stood there and done what they did.” Obviously, the Iraqis were unfamiliar with the biblical expression to love others more than one’s self.
For their courageous actions, Corporal Jonathan Yale, 22, and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, 20, were posthumously awarded the Nation’s second highest award—the Navy Cross.
While Kelly’s speech focused on Yale and Haerter’s courage, it did not address the obvious corollary—its absence on the part of the Iraqi defenders present.
Courage, the responsibility to protect others at all costs, the willingness to fight to the death for what one believes simply did not exist among the Iraqis present in Ramadi that day in 2008—nor does it exist today.
The six seconds in that video captured what still ails the Iraqi army today. If the presence of U.S. Marines refusing to run from danger is insufficient to motivate Iraqis to stand fast and fight, little hope exists they will do so without a U.S. force presence.
In a May 24th interview, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter questioned the Iraqi army’s “will to fight” for abandoning Ramadi without a shot despite facing a much smaller ISIS force. Shedding their weapons and equipment in their haste to escape, the Iraqis made yet another significant contribution to the ISIS war machine by donating that given them by the U.S.
While one anti-U.S. Iraqi lawmaker, Hakim al-Zamili, criticized Carter’s comment as “unrealistic and baseless,” he would be hard-pressed to otherwise explain the complete collapse of the city’s defense by his army. This was not an army routed by ISIS; this was an army taking to flight for fear of having to fight. ISIS shouted, “boo;” the Iraqis ran.
The only effective anti-ISIS fighters on the ground today in Iraq are the Kurds. Historically oppressed in Iraq, they have emerged with a will to fight worthy of recognition. Accordingly, the U.S. should be directly supplying them with arms and equipment needed to defeat ISIS. This would also ensure a force presence in Iraq, post-ISIS, unwilling to accept Iranian domination in the country. But, for this reason, as well as fear of arming a Kurdish independence movement, the Iran-friendly Baghdad government objects to the U.S. doing so. Thus, a major domestic asset to help the Iraqi army grow a backbone is denied.
Absent a strong Kurdish force presence, the only other hope for an ISIS defeat requires the pro-Shia Baghdad government work with—not against—Sunni tribes in the western part of the country. But it demonstrates no willingness to do so, encouraging Sunnis to turn to ISIS. The Iraqis appear to lack not only courage, but brain cells as well.
Of course, President Obama suffers the same malady. Despite U.S. intelligence assessments, Iraq will never again function as a united country as Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds strive for autonomy, Obama works with Baghdad as if it governs a unified state—playing right into ISIS hands.
Private Martin Treptow was an American soldier killed during WWI. His diary contained a message most telling about the American will to fight. Under the heading “My Pledge,” he wrote: “America must win this war. Therefore, I will work; I will save; I will sacrifice; I will endure; I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost as if the whole issue of the struggle depended on me alone.”
We are a country truly blessed to have warriors like Treptow, Yale and Haerter. While Treptow died 90 years before the others, all three were driven by the same Pledge to fight “as if the whole issue of the struggle depended on me alone.”
The will to fight for men such as these is forged from a commitment to God, country and their fellow man. While it is a part of the American warrior’s DNA, sadly the Iraqi warrior not only lacks it but fails even to understand it.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.