Dispatches From Iraq: Stake Through Their Hearts, Killing Al Qaeda

Michael Yon is an independent journalist and former Green Beret who was embedded in Iraq for nine months in 2005. He has returned to Iraq for 2008 to continue reporting on the war. Here is a portion of his latest dispatch exclusively for FOXNews.com.


Click here to read the full dispatch for "Stake Through Their Hearts, Killing Al Qaeda."

The sun was setting over Nineveh as four terrorists driving tons of explosives closed in on their targets. On Aug. 14, 2007, the Yezidi villages of Qahtaniya and Jazeera were under attack, but only the terrorists knew it as they drove their trucks straight into the hearts of the communities.

The shockwave from detonation far outpaced the speed of sound. Buildings and humans were ripped apart and hurled asunder. Superheated poisonous gases from the explosions gathered the smoke and dust and lofted heavenward, while the second detonation quickly followed. The terrorists had landed their first blows straight through the heart of the Yezidi community, turning a wedding party into hundreds of funerals.

But the attacks were not over. Yezidi men grabbed their rifles, and while two more truck bombs rumbled toward Qahtaniya and Jazeera, a hail of Yezidi bullets met them. The defenders who fired the bullets were killed with honor while standing between evil and their people. Two other truck bombs detonated on the outskirts of the villages.

When the sun rose the next morning, screaming victims remained trapped in the rubble. Survivors clawed and ripped at the wreckage, working themselves to exhaustion to rescue their wives, husbands, children and brothers.

The attacks on Qahtaniya and Jazeera killed more than 500 people and garnered international news. No group claimed responsibility, yet the attacks bore the mark of the Al Qaeda beast in the way that fangs to a jugular vein spells "Dracula."

Al Qaeda is still trying to spin Iraq into civil war, but whereas in 2005-2006 Al Qaeda was succeeding, today Al Qaeda is being shredded.

An Iraqi officer near Sinjar told me that recently a group of perhaps 20 "jihadists," many of them foreign, descended on a Nineveh village. The Iraqi officer said the terrorists killed some adults and two babies. One baby they murdered was 15 days old.

Until recently, such terror attacks inside Iraq could have coerced the village into sheltering Al Qaeda. Yet this time, the "jihadists" got an unexpected reception. Local men grabbed their rifles and poured fire on the demons, slaughtering them.

Nineteen terrorists were destroyed. Times have changed for Al Qaeda here. Too many Iraqis have decided they are not going to take it anymore. Al Qaeda in Iraq is still fighting, and they are tough and wily, but Al Qaeda Central seems to realize there are easier targets elsewhere, perhaps in Europe, where many people demonstrate weakness in the face of terror.

Al Qaeda was apparently not in Iraq before this war, and at the current rate they will not be here when it’s over. The Iraqi army and police are doing most of the work these days, but their own operations are significantly augmented by what we bring to the fight.

The main American helicopter unit in Nineveh is 4-6 Air Cavalry Squadron. The normal strength of the "Redcatchers" is 40 helicopters -- 30 Kiowas and 10 Blackhawks -- but the Squadron has lost one Kiowa and a Blackhawk in Iraq, costing more than a dozen lives.

The soldiers were lost forever, but the helicopters were replaced, and the Squadron is flying as hard as ever and to great effect. The pilots and crews work 24/7, performing direct combat and combat-support missions.

I flew from Mosul in one of the Squadron’s Blackhawks from "Darkhorse" troop en route to FOB Sykes near Tal Afar. The "Hawks" are powerful, fast and loud. Blackhawk rotors are better designed than Vietnam-era Huey "choppers" and do not generate the percussive "whop whop whop."

And so despite that Blackhawks are loud, when they fly low, fast and into the wind, they can at times literally sneak up on people on the ground. First there is silence and then "VRROOOOMMMM," the Hawk flies right over your head.

We flew low from Mosul to Tal Afar in broad daylight, and if we happened to cross paths with a surface-to-air missile, the day could get exciting and final.

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Independent journalist Michael Yon’s dispatches from Iraq appear exclusively on FOXNews.com. Click to read Yon's online magazine MichaelYon-online.com.