Al Sahra Airfield
COB Speicher formerly FOB Speicher (Al Sahra Airfield under Saddam Hussein) was a US Army contingency operating base (COB) captured from the Iraqi Army during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. It was reassigned from a forward operating base to a COB because of its large size. The installation is located near Tikrit in northern Iraq, approximately 170 kilometers north of Baghdad and 11 kilometers west of the Tigris River. The airfield is served by two main runways measuring 9,600 feet (2,900 m) long with a shorter runway measuring 7,200-foot (2,200 m). It has been the location of the headquarters of the United States Forces–North (USF-N, formerly Multinational Division, North, (MND-N)) during the ongoing Iraq War. It is named after Captain Michael Scott Speicher, a U.S. Navy pilot who was killed in action in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War when his F/A-18 Hornet was shot down by Lieutenant Zuhair Dawood of the Iraqi Air Force.
American soldiers, civilians, and contractors have had access to a variety of amenities over the course of the United States' occupation of the base. A large, modern dining facility serves hot food every day. COB Speicher is home to an old soccer stadium where visiting bands perform today. There are a beauty salon, spa, barber shop, dry cleaning facility, tailoring shop, and a bazaar. Renovated Iraqi barracks, tents, and containerized housing units (CHUs) are used as housing for soldiers. CHUs are all wired for electricity and many have their own satellite television. The mail arrives daily at Speicher as opposed to only 2-3 times a week at outlying base camps. A large MWR (morale, welfare, recreation) facility contains Internet terminals, phones, big-screen TVs, PlayStations, pool tables, table tennis, libraries, and a lounge area. USO tours occasionally come to COB Speicher. The US Army left COB Speicher in October 2011 as part of the general withdrawal of US Forces.
Winter temperatures can drop to the upper 20s and low 30s. Units have heaters for their rooms to keep their quarters warm during these cold months. During the summer, temperatures can get up to around 130+ degrees. Most housing (whether a tent or containerized housing unit now have air conditioner/heater combinations. Satellite TV (Armed Forces Network and commercial) for sports and movies is available throughout the camp.
Prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, Al-Sahra Air Base was the main base of the IrAF Air Academy. The base was one of several Iraqi Air Force airfields in the mid-1970s which were re-built under project "Super-Base" in response to the experiences from Arab-Israeli wars in 1967 and 1973.
Originally, 13 airfields were re-built by British contractors, and on all of them also a number of hardened aircraft shelters were built. Subsequently companies from Yugoslavia - previously engaged in building bridges in Iraq - became involved. Due to their specific construction of these airfields - which included taxi-ways leading right out of Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) and laid diagonally to the runways - they became known as "Trapezoids" or "Yugos".
The facilities were divided into two categories: "surface" and "underground". The "surface" facilities were actually the "softest", and included maintenance hangars of metal construction, and HAS of concrete construction. In total, the Yugoslavs have built no less but 200 HAS on different airfields in Iraq during the 1980s.
The protection of each HAS consisted of one-meter-thick concrete shells, reinforced by 30 cm thick steel plates. There was only one entrance and this was covered by sliding doors, made of 50 cm thick steel armoured plate and concrete. The HAS' were usually built in small groups - seldom more than five, with each group sharing the same water and power supply, besides having its own backup gasoline-powered electrical generator, and each HAS being equipped with a semi-automatic aircraft-refuelling system.
In addition, underground facilities that could shelter between four and ten aircraft on average were constructed. In order to build these the Yugoslavs used equipment and construction techniques identical to that use in underground oil-storage depots, additionally concealing the extension and the true purpose of the whole project. The underground facilities were all hardened to withstand a direct hit by a tactical nuclear bomb, buried up to 50 meters below the ground and consisted of the main aircraft "hangar" (consisting of two floors in several cases, connected by 40ts hydraulic lifts), connected with operations, maintenance, and logistical facilities via a net of underground corridors.
Capture by United States forces
During OIF, the main runway and some taxiways were cut by bomb hits, and the large main hangar structure was blown up. The remains of the other large hangar next to it burned down in a large fire in July 2003.
The Iraqis realized already before that it was futile to hide aircraft on them and thus resorted to dispersal, while the US officers wanted Al-Sahra to be captured intact so they could use it subsequently.
The original unit to take control of the base was 1-10th Cavalry of the 4th Infantry Division and was handed over to 4th Aviation Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division in the 2nd week of the war. The US troops found 30 dispersed L-39 Aero Albatros, few MiG-15UTIs, more than 40 Zlins, and at least 50 other “light trainers.” A small number of Jet Provost airframes – used as ground instruction airframes – were also seen, but their condition not confirmed. In addition to these aircraft also five destroyed Su-20/-22s and two MiG-25s were found at the site.
COB Speicher had a large Post Exchange (PX), as well as several American fast food restaurants, including Subway, Burger King, and Pizza Hut; although these were all closed by mid October 2011. the 89th transportation company were among the last unit to leave COB Speicher in October 2011.
Units that have been based at COB Speicher include the (2003–2004) 4th Infantry Division 1-4 Aviation, 4th Infantry Division 2-4 Aviation, 42nd Infantry Division (Mechanized), 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), elements of the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), 25th Infantry Division (Light), 13th Corps Support Command, 287th Transportation Company (HET), 300th Quartermaster Company (Illinois Reserve Unit under the 88th RCS), 50th Main Support Battalion; Company B, 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 434th Main Support Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, HHC, Company A and Company B, 136th Signal Battalion(Texas Army National Guard), Company D, 111th Signal Battalion(South Carolina Army National Guard), HHC, Company B, Company D, 57th Signal Battalion, [141st Medical Company (GA) Connecticut Army National Guard unit, Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, 555th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 232d CSB and others. The 1404th Transportation Company (PLS) from the Arizona Army National Guard was stationed there in 2003 under the 4th Infantry Division, 743rd Maintenance Company Florida National Guard. 164th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron from the Ohio Air Guard.
During 2004-2005, 167th Corps Support Group/94th RRC, 12th Chemical Company, 701st MSB, 1st Infantry Division supported transportation and logistic units based at FOB Speicher supported US units in Kirkuk, Mosul and 5 subordinate bases. The 467th Engineer Battalion from the U.S. Army Reserves were stationed here under both the 42nd Infantry Division and 3rd Infantry Division between 2004 and 2005. The 232nd Corps Support Battalion of the Illinois Army National Guard, 323rd Maintenance Company (DS), 454th Transportation Company from the U.S. Army Reserves, and elements of USAF 1058th Air Expeditionary Force Transportation Company of the 13th Corps Support Command of the Multi-National Corps, Iraq. Elements of the 3rd Squadron of the Tennessee National Guard's 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment were stationed at COB Speicher under the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) as convoy security units from February 2010 until July 2010. Elements of the Ohio National Guard's 16 Engineering Brigade were stationed here from 2003 through 2005 and helped bring the structures and roadways of the base to livable conditions. Elements of the Kentucky National Guard (including the 149th Infantry Brigade, 2113th Transportation Company) were stationed at FOB Speicher from 2004 though 2006. 88th RRC was stationed here from 2004 to 2005. HHS/6-27 FA (HET) was stationed at COB Speicher from October 2005 to September 2006 and conducted a handover with the 1461st CBT HET of the Michigan Army National Guard was stationed here, and provided support for the troop surge in the stabilization of Iraq during 2006-2007.
In 2007-2008, the 111th Engineer Brigade of the West Virginia Army National Guard was headquartered within the "Badgerville" section of COB Speicher. Serving under the 25ID and later the 1AD, the 111th Engineer Brigade conducted engineer missions throughout Multi-National Division North (MND-N).
The US Army left COB Speicher in October 2011 as part of the general withdrawal of US Forces. Camp Speicher is currently used by the Iraqi Army and Air Force.
By mid June 2014, Tikrit was overrun by the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Iraqi Air Force cadets claimed that as ISIS approached many of the camps, officers fled, and as a result, several thousand Shiite cadets and other personnel abandoned their uniforms and began to walk toward Baghdad. Several miles from the camp, they were confronted and taken prisoners by approximately fifty ISIS militants in armored vehicles. Following their capture, between 560 to 770 were killed in mass shooting executions. A video released by ISIS in July showed the executions done in several locations including shooting the cadets in trenches and shooting then throwing the bodies in River Tigris. In early September, corpses were seen floating on the surface. Very few managed to escape unharmed and survive.
Camp Speicher has never been captured by ISIS.
- First Lost, Last Found ‹ HistoricWings.com :: A Magazine for Aviators, Pilots and Adventurers
- Arango, Tim (9/4/2014). "Escaping Death in Northern Iraq". NY Times. Retrieved 9/4/2014.
- Iraq: ISIS Execution Site Located | Human Rights Watch