A handful of American soldiers fought off 150 Iraqis inside enemy territory for over six hours before they were rescued, says an Army officer involved in secret special operations during the Persian Gulf war.
Chief Warrant Officer R.F. Balwanz, head of a reconnaissance team, was among several witnesses who recounted the daring, risky missions mounted by covert special operations forces during the war."It was a harrowing experience," Balwanz told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee on Thursday.
"We held off a company of Iraqi soldiers plus some armed Bedouins that joined in the fracas for approximately six hours until we could be rescued," he said.
The roughly seven Americans, trapped in a chest-high canal near the Euphrates River, fought off the enemy on the ground while F-16 pilots provided air cover, Balwanz said.
Eventually, the Americans were rescued by Black Hawk helicopters.
A colleague of Balwanz, Chief Warrant Officer Jim Crisafulli, told of another rescue mission he flew 200 miles inside Iraq to extract a special operations team under attack.
The pilots carried out the operation during the day even though most special operations take place at night. When the pilots reached the team, they found them only 35 feet from the enemy.
The military's special operations command is comprised of elite personnel from the Air Force, Navy and Army. They handled the war's most secret assignments: deception operations along the Kuwait coast, reconnaissance missions inside Iraq and rescues.
They often used sophisticated equipment like satellite radios that allow reconnaissance men to transmit up-to-date details back to headquarters, satellite equipment that reads land terrain and night-vision equipment.
Sens. William Cohen, R-Maine, and Sam Nunn, D-Ga., praised the special operations forces.
Gen. Carl Stiner, head of the military's special operations command based at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Fla., agreed the forces handled the war well. But he recommended changes in equipment.
For instance, he said, the Army is trying to reduce the weight of the 150-pound backpacks men carry on their back when they leave for five-day reconnaissance missions.
Officials are looking for lighter batteries and equipment so that a pack would weigh about 40 pounds.
Stiner said the Navy is trying to find a way to defuse mines in shallow water. "It's a real problem and poses significant risk," he said.
Submersible boats that carry Navy SEALs to enemy territory also need an overhaul, he said.