On 23 March 2003, during the early stages of Operation Iraqi freedom, a task force of JSOC Special Mission Units (Delta Force and/or DEVGRU) Operators and 75th Rangers were airlifted into action by helicopters flown by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR). Their mission was to assault a suspected chemical weapons compound at Al Qadisiyah, a remote town in the Iraqi desert.
The assault force was made up of:
- 2 MH-6 Little Bird helicopters, carrying Delta Force snipers strapped either side to benches
- 2 AH-6 Little Bird gunships
- 4 MH-60K ‘Kilo’ Black Hawks, carrying Rangers
- 2 MH-60L DAP Black Hawk gunships
- 2 MH-47 Chinooks, carrying the JSOC assault force
- 2 MH-47 Chinooks, carrying reserve forces
The first elements of the force arrived over the target around midnight – 2 MH-6s with their JSOC passengers sweeping the ground with night scopes, looking for any resistance from the Iraqi army forces believed to be in the area.
Right on their tails, the 2 AH-6 gunships, armed with miniguns and rocket pods.
Next came the MH-60 Kilos, each setting down at pre-arranged points around the target. Their cargo of Rangers, who would act as a block force for the Delta/DEVGRU assault, quickly dismounted at went about guarding the perimeter. As the Rangers came under fire from adjacent buildings, a AH-6 rolled in and suppressed the enemy with rocket fire.
As the AH-6 and MH-6 airborne snipers suppressed any hostiles on the ground, Delta/DEVGRU arrived on their MH-47s which landing in quick succession close to the target compound, one following the other. The JSOC operators began to clear the buildings of the target complex, methodically working through the labs, offices and storage facilities, searching for signs of WMD and collecting intelligence.
The strike force had only suffered 2 wounded during the insertion; one a Ranger who had been hit as his chalk exited their kilo, the other a Nightstalker aboard one of the Chinooks inserting Delta/DEVGRU who had been shot through the jaw. Both men had been flown to a nearby desert strip where they were treated by a medical team aboard a specially-equipped C-130. This strip also served as a rally point for the Kilos and Chinooks to wait until they were called back to the target area to extract their ‘customers’.
Outside, the 4 Ranger chalks at the blocking positions traded heavy fire with the enemy. Above them, the 2 MH-60L DAP gunships were on the prowl for any ground forces that might threaten the operation. A number of enemy vehicles approached the Ranger chalks and were greeted with warning shots at first from the DAPs and when this failed to stop their advance, they were neutralized with armor-piercing rounds from the helicopter’s M230 30mm chain guns.
The combined firepower of the circling gunships and the Rangers on the ground was enough to keep the Iraqi forces at bay, giving Delta/DEVGRU the time they needed to complete its sweep. Their operation on the ground complete, Delta called in the 2 SOAR Chinooks for extraction. As soon as Delta/DEVGRU were airborne, the 4 MH-60Ks came in and extracted the Rangers, who had been on the scene for no longer than 45 minutes. Within minutes, the Rangers were back in the air, headed for friendly territory, escorted by SOAR gunships.
Precisely what was found inside the compound has yet to be officially disclosed.