`Within five minutes of us hitting Saddam’s palace, the B-1 had dropped his JDAM on the restaurant, which was only five blocks away,’ Lt Col Mike Burt, VMFA-232 F/A-18 pilot.
For the first time since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the US Marine Corps (USMC) sent a complete Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) into the field as part of the Coalition build for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). As with Desert Storm, when the backbone of the Bahrain-based MAG-11 was provided by seven Hornet units, the Marine Corps’ primary TACAIR asset in OIF was once again the venerable F/A-18. Two C- and three D-model units called Al Jaber, in northern Kuwait, home for the duration of the 2003 conflict, and again they were controlled by MAG-11.
As US forces began to seize control of Baghdad, a concerted effort was made by CENTCOM to eradicate high value leadership targets before they could be spirited out of the city. As explained by Tony Holmes in his book US Marine Corps and RAAF Hornet Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom, at the top of the list was Saddam Hussein himself, and VMFA-232’s Lt Col Mike Burt was involved in one of the last decapitation sorties aimed at eliminating the Iraqi President;
`On 7 April I was involved in the B-1 JDAM strike on the restaurant in the al-Mansour district of southwest Baghdad following intelligence that Saddam Hussein was dining in this establishment with his sons Uday and Qusay. My wingman and I were up on CAP with the B-1, and I could see him about 20 miles to the east of us. We were both performing a standard CAS mission, working with the same SOF guy on the ground.
`He came up on the radio with a coordinate for my wingman and I to hit after he confirmed that we had four JDAM between us to drop. I knew straight off the bat that he was SOF, as he briefed the attack differently to how I was used to. He was laid back about the whole deal, passing me the grid coordinates and then asking me to read them back as per standard operational procedure — I read them back once I had typed them into the jet’s mission computer. He replied, “Affirmative, you are good to go”.
`There was undercast across Baghdad that day, so I couldn’t see the city, let alone the target. I plotted the coordinates on my map and discovered that my aim point was right in the centre of downtown Baghdad, on the banks of the Tigris. This made me very nervous! I radioed the FAC once more to confirm this was where he wanted our bombs, and he replied, “Sure thing. Bring it on!”, so we pickled a solitary bomb each and pushed out of the area. I could still see the B-1 nearby throughout this time.
`About a minute later the SOF guy got on the radio and said, “That sounded great! Can you do it again?” I replied in the affirmative, and he adjusted the coordinates a little bit, prior to us releasing our remaining JDAM. Once again he was effusive about the accuracy of our dropping. Having expended all of our ordnance, we bid him farewell and headed back to Al Jaber. Once on the ground, I made a point of heading straight to our operations tent and typing the coordinates of the target into our computer-stored file of satellite imagery. When I blew up the relevant photograph on the screen I was astonished to see that we had just bombed one of Saddam’s monster palaces in central Baghdad.
`Two days later, I was flying over the same area again, and I dropped down to below 10,000 ft and made a couple of reconnaissance runs over the palaces. I could clearly see four huge holes punched through the domed roofs of the central building, with large craters beneath them.
`Within five minutes of us hitting the palace, the B-1 had dropped his JDAM on the restaurant, which was only five blocks away. I am not sure whether the two strikes were connected, with the SOF guys hedging their bets that he may have been at either of these locations — hence the fact that they were both hit one after the other. As it transpired, he was at neither.’
US Marine Corps and RAAF Hornet Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps