Byran Denton, a New York Times photographer who was with the Iraqi counterterrorism force, covered events that transpired as Iraqi forces tried to take Mosul, a pivotal stronghold in their regime, back from ISIS.
He explained the terrors and hardship that they went through as they pushed against the world’s greatest threat, ISIS.
On the morning of Oct. 20, Denton and the Iraqi forces’ main objective was to take and clear Bartella, a militant-held town about six miles east of the outskirts of Mosul. It was their first offensive attack.
Prior to the war, the drive to Bartella would have only taken an hour and a half. But with the area war torn and the risk of car bombs at an all-time high, it would take the unit all day to reach their destination.
Every village on the way to Bartella posed a threat of ambush. Denton and his unit traveled in a behemoth Iraqi Army MRAP, a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle. Denton and his convoy were in the middle of the pack.
The New York Times reporter explained how nervous he was going into the belly of the ISIS beast.
Denton’s convoy was previously attacked by 3 unsuccessful car bombs and was under relentless fire throughout the long day. The convoy hadn’t gone far and was already taking small arms fire from various directions. The Iraqi vehicles headed further south towards their target location. They were now accompanied by Iraqi Army M1A1 Abrams tank, that overlooked the field they were traveled through.
Bullets passed and continually kicked around dust as it ricocheted off the vehicles and dirt below them, leaving spidering glass throughout the front windows.
Tensions continued to rise as they came upon their first stretch of paved road. The convoy was also accompanied by a bulldozer that pushed up mounds of dirt to defend against suicide bombers.
The convoy passed across the paved road with little problem, but they now faced a greater issue. They were stuck in a field and needed the bulldozer to come fill the trenches that ISIS has dug for this exact reason. It left them open to attack.
The first suicide car bomber made its appearance roaring down the road heading right towards their position. The Counterterrorism unit immediately directed their fire towards the car bomber.
All Denton could recall from the event was the intense gunfire vehicle-mounted grenade launchers going fully automatic. The bulldozer couldn’t get there fast enough, he recalled.
The gunfire caused the ISIS driver to clumsily veer off the road and into a ditch, resulting in his car flipping over. It sat like a overturned turtle until its payload exploded, driving a pile of smoke billowing into the blue sky. The trench was finally filled and they were back on track.
But the gunfire continued to ping off the armored vehicle, hitting Denton’s vehicle’s front tire. But it didn’t stop the convoy; they moved towards the objective, bouncing throughout the uneven terrain.
The vehicle commander, Lt. Muhammad Altimimi, told everyone in the vehicle, including the journalist, to watch for suicide bombers. The back of the convoy radioed telling the commander they took out another car bomber. With all eyes peeled, one vehicle stood out. It was covered with makeshift armor and picking up speed towards the convoy.
MRAP’s driver panicked and gunned the engine into reverse, trying to distance itself from the car bomber. Luckily, the car bomber veered into another ditch and found itself stuck, setting up a perfect target for M1A1 tank that traveled with them. Applause broke out amongst Denton and his companions as the disabled car was destroyed. They knew how close they were to certain death.
After relentless attacks on the convoy, they finally reached their target, Bartella. Since the front tire was blown and they were basically immobile, they were ordered to wait until the forces could make sure the road further up was clear.
Denton and another journalist pilled out of the car and began taking pictures, all the while staying in cover in case of snipers in the distance.
Denton was walking back to his vehicle when someone screamed in Arabic, “Car bomb!” He quickly spun around and 70 feet away from him was another car bomber, number 4. Everyone ran to find cover. Denton recalled he was in the open for only 4 to 5 seconds but that was too long.
The bomb explosed, and Denton felt a sharp pain in his arm. After looking down at his wrist, Denton could briefly see the bone through a deep gash before the wound filled with blood.
The wounded reporter was loaded onto a flatbed of a Humvee with Iraqi soldiers who had also been wounded, and they were driven back behind their lines.
Once back in the states, Denton described how incredibly lucky he was, reporting that if his injury had been just an inch to the left, he could have lost my right hand or the use of it. Certainly, an injury no journalist wants.