The Florida Keys War
by Chris Oakley
Adapted from material originally posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the previous chapters of this series we explored the causes of the Florida Keys War; the course of the war itself; and the war’s impact on the subsequent course of human history. In this chapter we’ll look at Cuban President Montoya’s response to the Havana rail station bombing and the battle between allied and Iranian forces for possession of Tehran.
We Band of Brothers: January-April 2003
President Montoya was both young enough to be physically vigorous and old enough to remember the days of Castro’s Marxist oppression. That combination lent an added touch of vitality to his already forceful words as he addressed his fellow Cubans and the world in the aftermath of the Havana rail station bombing. If anyone had hoped that the attack might intimidate him or his government into pulling out of the war in Iran, the first words of his televised address must have been a bitter disappointment to such people. "We will not be bullied out of honoring our deep commitments to our friends abroad." he flatly declared, his gaze drilling into the camera lens as if he were daring his audience to prove him wrong. "Nor will we capitulate to barbarians who seek to impose on us a new tyranny worse than the old."
In the days following the speech, it became clear that the majority of the Cuban people shared Montoya’s sentiments on that score. "Dicamos No A Terroristas!(We Say No To Terrorists!)" became a popular refrain at mass demonstrations in Havana and other major Cuban cities; prominent figures in all segments of Cuban society vied to outdo each other in proclaiming their support for the war effort. Cuban military recruiters reported a 40% surge in enlistment among people ages 18-26 in the first ten days after the rail station bombing.1
Meanwhile, Cuban police scoured the countryside for other potential terrorists while the DSE2 looked into the possibility of hostile foreign governments having bankrolled at least some of the Baracoa cell’s activities up to and including the Havana rail station bombing. Across the Florida Straits, US federal and state anti-terrorist experts met with the Cuban consul general in Miami for a debriefing on ways to prevent copycat attacks in southern Florida.
Thousands of miles away, on the Iranian battlefront, Cuban and American soldiers continued to hammer away at Iran’s battered army, eager to get to Tehran and end the war as quickly as they could. They and their allied comrades-in-arms sensed that the Ahmadinejad dictatorship and the mullahs who backed it were ripe for the picking and they wanted nothing more than to give it, as a certain fictional heavy metal guitarist might have said, "that extra push over the cliff".
In a tactic harkening back to the days of their war with Iraq, the Iranians turned increasingly to volunteer suicide squads to keep the allied ground forces at bay. Though the regular army and the Revolutionary Guards were fighting with as much determination as ever, their combat effectiveness was dwindling more and more by the day-- particularly in the absence of air support. Thus, it was almost inevitable that suicide troops would become the weapon of last resort for the Ahmadinejad regime.
Not that these squads did much more good than the IEDs; by February 2003 allied advance patrols had bypassed the cities of Qom and Kashan and could see the town of Rey through their night vision goggles. Allied air strikes against Tehran were now being flown out of bases that had once belonged to the Iranian fighter squadrons charged with the capital’s defense. And allied warships could rain cruise missiles down on Tehran virtually at will with Iran’s navy gone.
Next to the assault on Tehran, the battle for Rey was perhaps the coalition’s hardest-fought campaign of the Iran War. Both sides knew that if Rey fell, allied forces would in effect be sitting on Ahmadinejad’s doorstep within weeks if not days; thus, allied and Iranian soldiers alike attacked without hesitation or mercy.
The Revolutionary Guard troops at Rey were by far the most dedicated fighters in the city’s defense; many of them stayed at their battle posts even in the face of severe injuries that would have prompted most soldiers to seek immediate medical help; their allied foes, while not as cavalier in regard to their own wounds, were just as determined to take the city. So in the second week of the battle, Gen. Franks ordered a three-column armored thrust against the Iranians’ western flank at Rey preceded by a series of diversionary raids by US and British special forces against Iranian defensive positions in the north.
The Iranians weren’t entirely defenseless against armored attack despite the battering they’d taken of late from coalition ground forces; they still had anti-tank weapons they’d salvaged from the aftermath of previous battles, and if all else failed there was still the IED. And yet a feeling of impending disaster hung over Rey’s defenders-- if their comrades hadn’t been able to turn back the US-led invasion in the early days of the war, when Iran still had a highly well-equipped military, how much chance would they have of stopping the allied armored thrust now that the cupboard was, so to speak, almost bare?
The answer, as it turned out, was not quite as much chance as they would have liked. Though allied tank units took some hits in the opening round of their attack on the Iranian western flank at Rey, they recovered quickly from those blows and smashed through the city’s defenses like a rock through a window. Up north, SAS and Green Beret squads wrought sheer havoc on Iranian defenses in those sectors; in the east, Iraqi and Pakistani air strikes made an already terrible situation for the Iranians that much worse.
After three weeks, Rey finally capitulated to allied forces, removing one of the last remaining hurdles to a direct assault on Tehran. Ahmadinejad, whose state of mind had been precarious enough to begin with, was by now on the verge of a full-blown mental breakdown as he tried to cope with the prospect of infidel soldiers marching into the sacred ancient capital of Persia. The mullahs who backed him were exhorting the masses not to give up the fight, and never mind if some felt might be time for the sake of Iran’s future to make peace with the US-sponsored coalition. All that mattered to the powers that be in Tehran was hanging on to power as long as they could by any means they could.
In late March of 2003 Franks began redeploying his ground and air forces in preparation for the final assault on Tehran; recon flights over the Iranian capital were stepped up and satellite intel teams worked overtime as they sought to identify the most likely possible hiding spots for Ahmadinejad and his cronies. The allied naval contingent in the Persian Gulf let off one final big round of cruise missile salvos to soften up Iranian defenses in and around Tehran before the ground forces made their move; just to make certain that no military or command/control targets of any importance had been overlooked, US Air Force B-52s barraged the Iranian capital with their own cruise missiles while F-15s dropped hundreds of tons of smart bombs on the city.
On April 7th, 2003, the allied armies commenced Operation All The King’s Men, the attack on Tehran. The main thrusts at the Iranian capital came from the east and south while American and British mechanized infantry staged a two-pronged diversionary assault from the west. As one might expect, the fighting was bitter right from the start; one Revolutionary Guard battalion defending the city’s main civilian airport was literally wiped out to the last man.
Among the allied troops who died in that engagement was US Army infantryman Casey Sheehan, cut down by Iranian snipers as his unit was attempting to secure one of the highways leading into the airport. His death would underscore the heartbreaking price the US-sponsored coalition had been forced to pay to rid the world of Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist dictatorship-- and touch off one of the biggest political firestorms of Jeb Bush’s presidency.
Without intending to, Casey’s mother Cindy soon found herself becoming the new face of the left’s opposition to President Bush in general and his war policies in particular; just as quickly she morphed into a target for the American right’s ire towards the antiwar movement. Although she had never spoken in public before her son was killed, afterward the eyes of the global media focused intently on her as she lashed out at Jeb Bush and his cabinet for, in her view, getting Casey killed in a war that she saw as having been caused largely by the CIA’s failure to avert 9/11 and the State Department’s inability to negotiate a peaceful answer to the problems posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
"You let us down." she bitterly accused the commander-in-chief in a 60-second video commentary produced with the partial help of the leftist website MoveOn.org; in that short clip she basically charged Bush with abandoning the American people at a critical time in US history. Her assertions didn’t sit well with those who supported the administration, and at least one supporter made his displeasure known by funding a 60-second counterpoint spot that blasted Mrs. Sheehan as a spotlight-hungry paranoiac with a near- pathological hate for conservatives.
Before long, a raucous national debate was in full swing over how Bush had handled the war to date and whether he was capable of making the necessary tough calls regarding postwar occupation of Iran. With MoveOn.org and other left-wing organizations giving financial and political support, Cindy Sheehan went on a cross- country "Change The Course" tour trashing the Bush Administration at every turn; she called for the American people to vote Bush out of office in the 2004 presidential elections and put a new chief executive in the White House who would take her advice and begin withdrawing US troops from Iran at the earliest possible moment.
The majority of Americans, however, continued to support White House policy regarding the war; with Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime on the ropes and allied forces poised to deliver the knockout punch, there was little sympathy for what one GOP representative derisively labeled a "cut and run" approach to US foreign policy.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was becoming more paranoid by the day, seeing spies and assassins everywhere he turned. Iran’s president was watching his regime crumble right before his eyes, and it inevitably did further damage to his already much-battered psychological health. His clerical backers too feared for their individual and collective futures; they would have good reason for that fear as allied forces expanded and tightened their hold over Tehran...
To Be Continued
1From the January 21st, 2003 edition of El Diario Del Havana, Cuba’s largest privately-owned newspaper. 2 Departamento de Seguridad Externo or Department of External Security, the post-Castro Cuban counterintelligence service.