July 16, 2007 — -- More than 30,000 U.S. troops are trying to tame the violence in Baghdad as part of President Bush's troop surge.
American soldiers describe the constant stress of living in a war zone, voice their frustrations over the politics with the war strategy in Washington, and are seen as they watch an armored vehicle burn with six of their fellow troops trapped inside, in a rare and raw look at what American troops are experiencing on the front lines in Baghdad.
ABC News has an exclusive look at that campaign, a portion of which was filmed by British photographer Sean Smith of the Guardian newspaper, who was embedded with the U.S. Army's Second Infantry Division. (Click on the video in the player on the right to see a clip of what Smith filmed in Iraq.)
Smith spent two weeks with members of Apache Company and filmed them as they went on daily routine investigations, including one of a bomb making factory hidden in a private home. Soon after they arrived an explosion hit and an Iraqi soldier and several neighbors, including children, were hit.
The U.S. soldiers set up a first aid station and provided medical assistance in what was a typical day for the troops.
"I challenge anybody in Congress to do my rotation," said Spc. Michael Vassell of Apache Company. "They don't have to do anything, they just come hang out with me and go home at the times I go home, and come stay here 15 months with me."
Apache Company was sent to Iraq in June 2006 for a 12-month rotation which has since been extended to a 15-month tour.
"It's a joke. We will have spent 14 months in contact, basically fighting all 14 months," said Cpl. Joshua Lake. "Our battalion got right to Baghdad … first week we were in Baghdad we lost two guys in our battalion … it hasn't stopped since."
In another instance of Smith's reporting, Lake's platoon responded to a Bradley armored vehicle being hit by a roadside bomb, leaving six American soldiers and an Iraqi translator burning to death inside.
Lake and his fellow soldiers then raided a nearby house to search for the attackers. He said on a day like that, troops are given four to six hour breaks after these kinds of grueling assignments, which leaves little time to truly calm down.
"We got grenades going off, we've got an IED blowing up your vehicle … and then you are expected to go back in those four to six, four to five hours … and relax!" he said. "You just don't have time to do it. Your body never gets to come down, you're always on that heightened sense of alertness."
Two days later, Lake returned to the same neighborhood as his unit raided a house looking for weapons and insurgents. But all they found was an old woman and her dogs; the woman was visibly distressed.
After spending two weeks with Apache Company in Baghdad, Smith noted, "That's what being a soldier in so-called battle situations is about. The abnormal becomes the normal."
The next day, U.S. soldiers spotted a suspicious car circling the block where the old woman also lives. They ordered the driver to stop, and when he did not they opened fire.
They tried, unsuccessfully, to revive him.
A woman is seen in the video footage telling troops the victim was a taxi driver who was coming to pick her up -- he was just looking for her house.
Smith said the troops first priority is to defend themselves as some questioned their place in the war. "The frustration is not, 'Look how difficult this is.' The frustration is 'Look how difficult this is and what exactly for?'" Smith said.
"Because we have people up there in Congress with the brain of a 2-year-old who don't know what they are doing -- they don't experience it. I challenge the president or anyone who has us for 15 months to ride alongside me," Vassell said. "I [would] do another 15 months if he comes out here and rides along with me every day for 15 months. I'll do 15 more months. They don't even have to pay me extra."
To watch some of Sean Smith's video, click on the video player in the right column of this page.