"War Stories" host Oliver North has just returned from his sixth trip to Iraq, where he spent time embedded with Marines during massive combat operations near the Syrian border. FOX Fan Central asked him and FNC producer Greg Johnson about their time on the front lines.
FOX Fan Central: What did you focus on during this trip to Iraq?
Greg Johnson: When we arrived in Iraq we learned that the Marines had started Operation Matador near the Syrian border, so we raced up there. That was the craziest thing I've seen. It was different from the trip I took last year in that this was a large operation designed to take back control of this region and root out all the terrorists, of which there were many. It was a fast-paced, day-and-night operation.
Oliver North: The Syrian border out there at Al Qaim is the Wild West. I describe it as the bar scene in Star Wars. It's got every nature of smuggler, thief, bandit, knave and terrorist you've ever seen. The good news is they are getting a handle on them. For the very first time now you've got significant military operations cutting into these rat lines.
FOX Fan Central: What does an operation like that consist of?
Greg Johnson: It means going in, setting up a perimeter, and going through house-to-house. One of the things the Marines told me is that these terrorists would take over the households of normal families and use the people — men, women and children — to ferry munitions to each other. Most of the people they see in this kind of operation are women and children, knowing that they are probably being forced to carry ammunition hidden on their bodies. A kid may have a knapsack filled with grenades that a terrorist has ordered him to walk down to a house at the end of the street or they will kill his mother. The environment was a very ugly one, a very serious one.
FOX Fan Central: Did the unit you were embedded with suffer casualties?
Greg Johnson: We stopped in a field one day, the end of that day's operations. We were about 10-15 vehicles. For an hour we came out of our vehicles and rested; some guys were playing music — a very relaxed mood. And then we decided to leave and got in our vehicles and drove back down a dirt road. One of the AAVs hit a mine and blew up. Six Marines died. We had driven past that same location three times just in the pervious hour. It makes you realize that anything can happen on the battlefield. And I realized at that point there is no demarcation line; the battlefield is all around.
FOX Fan Central: How would you rate our troops' morale?
Oliver North: It's still very positive. What's disappointing to them is the kind of stuff coming from home, not what's over there. It's hard to deal with casualties. We were there when six young Marines died [snaps] that fast. That's hard to deal with by anybody. The fact is what's really depressing is commentary like what we saw in Newsweek, the kind of thing we hear from politicians in Washington now. It's very disheartening for them to hear, "Let's get out now because we can't accomplish this mission."
Greg Johnson: I think they're very tired. Many were back for their second or third tour in Iraq. Having said that, they're starting to work with Iraqi security forces, and because of that they are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They're definitely encouraged by that.
FOX Fan Central: Are the Iraqi forces up to speed?
Oliver North: They're getting better. Clearly these guys have combat experience and a lot more training than they had before. They've got a long ways to go, but it's very clear that Iraqis are coming up on the step, because to the extent they can provide security for themselves, we don't have to do it. Watching the Iraqis working with their own people is a very positive sign.
Tune-in Sunday, June 26th at 8pm ET to see stunning footage from Ollie and Greg's time with our troops — War Stories: The New Face of War in Iraq.