KEEPING THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS ROAD OPEN IS LIKE
"A KNIFE FIGHT IN A DARK ROOM" SAYS THE OFFICER WHO
DEFENDED THE BAGHDAD AIRPORT ROAD -- "60 MINUTES"
Lt. Col. Geoffrey Slack's job -- keeping a six-mile stretch of road open between downtown Baghdad and the city's airport -- was one of the most dangerous you could have in Iraq, a job he likened to a "vicious knife fight in a dark room." Lara Logan goes on patrol with Col. Slack and his men as they defend what's become known as the world's most dangerous road for a 60 MINUTES report to be broadcast Sunday, Nov. 6 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
On one patrol, Logan watches as Slack approaches a slit-open fuel can in the road that turns out to be a bomb. "It's either I do it or they do it," says Slack referring to his men. He's lost four of them over seven months, but almost as frustrating to Slack is the fact that the road is still not secure. "I would have to tell you that by the purest definition of secure, I still haven't been successful. [Securing the road] is a work in progress," he says.
Even with nearly a thousand men to guard the road, Slack says it's hard to catch insurgents who set off roadside bombs and conduct ambushes and suicide attacks because they blend in with the Iraqi population. Besides assigning Iraqi police to guard exit ramps, he leads patrols into neighborhoods to seek out the enemy. "You're trying to find an enemy who looks exactly like the people you don't want to kill," Slack tells Logan. "This is a vicious knife fight in a dark room, grappling with an unseen enemy, who, if he can get you, will kill you."
Insurgents know that if they can kill anyone on the vital thoroughfare or disrupt its flow, they will get a lot of attention because it's the country's lifeline to the outside and has become a symbol of America's progress in Iraq. Many insurgents are willing to sacrifice all. "This is a fundamentalist fanatic, for the most part, who's willing to, not just in onesies, or twosies, but wholesale, line up to commit suicide," says Slack.
Despite making the road somewhat safer, attacks continue and there is no clear victory in sight. "The hardest question you have to answer to a family or to a young soldier who has lost a friend is, 'What is that all about? What are we doing here, sir?' I can only tell them what I believe," says Slack, whose tour of duty ended in September. "That we are buying time�for [Iraq's] military, for this government to stand up and put itself together," he tells Logan.