Defense Media Network

OIF Second Night: SEAL Assault on the GOPLATs

Naval Special Warfare secures Iraqi oil terminals

Throughout the fall of 2002, NSW continued to refine its plan for the GOPLAT takedown, while beginning the deployment of the forces that would do the job. Most of the NSW assets were from the West coast, drawn from Squadron THREE. The force – which was made up of platoons from SEAL Team THREE; one SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team (SDVT) platoon; four MK Vs and RIBs from SBTs TWELVE and TWENTY –  began to move to the Persian Gulf in October. Over the winter, these units were trained on the takedown plan, while also taking part in MIO operations in the Gulf. By late February, the GOPLAT assault force was ready to go on short notice.

Second Night — The Assault

When the Allied air forces tried and failed to kill Saddam with a precision bomb and cruise missile strike early on March 20, reports began to come in from the Iraqi southern oilfields that six wellheads had been destroyed and were burning. There also were reports of the Pakistani and Indian workers from the GOPLATs being evacuated, and “thugs with large boxes” arriving in their place. Fearing that these were the first moves in Saddam’s “scorched earth” plan, CENTCOM moved up the start of the ground invasion, and gave the green light to the large SOF operation for that night.

SEALS check

Naval Special Warfare operators inspect a shipping container at Mina Al Bakr during the operation to secure the oil platform. Official U.S. Navy photo by Photographers Mate 1st Class Arlo K. Abrahamson

As darkness fell on the night of March 20-21, seizures began all over the northern Persian Gulf and southern Iraq waterways. The British 3 Commando Brigade conducted an amphibious assault on the Al Faw peninsula, encountering light resistance. U.S. Marines quickly grabbed the southern oilfields, and then seized the port of Umm Qasr. Out in the Gulf, British, Australian, New Zealand, and American warships and aircraft neutralized and captured a number of Iraqi minelayers, and Royal Navy mine hunters began work to clear the associated waterways of any mines. It was a busy night that was about to get busier.

While Richards would have preferred a pre-dawn assault, the need to synchronize the seizure of the two GOPLATs with the three land-based facilities meant that they set the target time for 10:25 p.m. (2225 hours) local time. There had been a great deal of discussion about just where on the platforms the assault teams should arrive, and by what means. Fast roping from helicopters was considered, but in the end the decision was made to begin the assault from the sea. The HH-60 helicopters would orbit the platforms to provide sniper cover if necessary, and also provide real-time thermal imaging video feeds back to Harward and Richards.

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