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Telegraph, November 16 , 2004

Lebanonwire

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Wounded of Fallujah are pressed to inform
By Toby Harnden in Fallujah

The new patients at the field aid station screamed out in agony as they were gently laid on stretchers. Fresh from the battlefield, flies swarmed around their infected wounds. US army medics barked out orders beside the makeshift triage beds.

But the four men being treated were not American soldiers. Blindfolded, stripped to the waist, the tags tied to their stretchers identified them as "EPWs" - enemy prisoners of war.

Disorientated and perhaps bewildered, they were surrounded by doctors and US interrogators with their translators, seeking to gain intelligence that might be of use in the battle for Fallujah.

The four were all foreigners - three Jordanians and a Sudanese. "These were the guys shooting RPGs [Rocket Propelled Grenades] at us," said a burly military intelligence NCO.

"They came out of their holes and just surrendered. We can't get any straight stories. They all say they came to work."

This was the same field aid station where a mortally injured lieutenant had been brought just 24 hours before. Suffering from a direct hit to the abdomen with an RPG, he died shortly after being evacuated to the Bravo Surgical hospital at Camp Fallujah.

Prisoner 14/3 cried out as his shattered left leg was bandaged. It had been broken several days earlier and doctors said it might have to be amputated.

He said his name was Abbas Yousef, an 18-year-old Jordanian. "I was brought to Baghdad in a truck to work in a hotel," he said when asked why he had been fighting the Americans.

"The mujahadin asked me what I was doing here. They forced me to fight. They wouldn't let me call anyone for help. I wanted to go back Jordan." He said a "man from Tunis" had been in charge of him. "I was paid $100 a month and given food and supplies."

Asked about Omar Hadid, an alleged leader of foreign fighters in the city, he at first said that he was dead, then changed his story. "What do you want? I can help you. I will tell you everything you want. I can get you any information you want."

Prisoner 14/5's story was equally incoherent. Suffering from a gun shot wound to the shoulder, he said he was Mohammed Khalid, a Sudanese who had been living in Saudi Arabia.

"I know nothing about Iraq," he shouted as a medic pressed a dressing on his arm. He came to work in a petrol station, he insisted. Between moans he said he was in Fallujah to find work but had been stranded when his money and passport had been stolen. "They're all liars," said the military intelligence NCO.

Lt Gregory McCrum, the Task Force 2-2 medical officer, said treating prisoners showed US forces had "a higher moral compass" than the insurgents. In addition, fighters could provide valuable intelligence if captured rather than killed.

"I have a sense of animosity against these individuals due to the fact they've taken up arms against us. But by the same token it's important to get them better so they can contribute information that might be able to save the life of an American."

Beside the aid station, battle-weary Task Force 2-2 soldiers debated whether prisoners should be helped. "They made a mistake not shooting those guys," said one.

"We can't do that, dude," another said angrily. "That would make us barbarians. We're Americans. They'll go to Guantanamo and have a nice stay at our facility there."

•The Black Watch could be returning home earlier than expected as the American assault on Fallujah winds down.

The 850-man battle group will take a week to withdraw to before they can be flown back to their headquarters in Warminister, Wilts.

The Black Watch weren't scheduled to leave until Dec 3 when a 30-day mission to secure the rear of the US advance comes to an end.

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