SAN DIEGO: U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Bill Seely says the years of U.S. training and mentoring has enabled Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to put a lockdown on ISIS or Daesh. This achievement, unique to Iraq, shows that committed efforts to build a national force to outmatch the insurgency pays off. ISIS, having once controlled 110,000 square kilometers of both Iraq and Syria, now has a claim to zero territories, a victory won in March 2019.
ISIS is still around, reduced to isolated criminal gangs, terrorists operating in small cells. Their offensives are few and far between. They’ll attack a police checkpoint, or take out the equivalent of Iraqi traffic cameras to shield their movement. They might try to bury some IEDs. When an attempt to attack innocent civilians fails, they claim it as a success, touting a lie about their stolen prowess.
Compare this to 2014, 15, 16, and their former height of strength and power in cities like Fallujah, Ramadi, and Mosul. Who can forget the heinous videos of ISIS’ executions? They even penetrated the green zone in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad. They were fierce and merciless. Their war on the population and troops defending them – was calamitous and bloody; it shocked the world.
Many nations have given much and many warriors’ lives to free 7.7 million innocent civilians from ISIS’ murderous role in Iraq and Syria. Each played a meaningful part along a brier-strewn path to success.
Iraq: A dear price paid to save others from the sharp thorns of ISIS.
ISIS occupation shattered the United States’ previous achievements in the Iraq War (after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime). The United States was on the verge of lasting victory during a costly seven-year occupation incurring the deaths of nearly 4,500 U.S. troops.
Marine Reservist Sgt. Douglas Bascom was one of those troops who in 2004 volunteered to return to service to root out rising Sunni insurgencies. He and others were met with sniper bullets, roadside bombs, and suicide vests. Bascom was killed when his vehicle hit an IED on fire-ridden streets far from home. He was 25 years young, his whole life ahead of him.
Seely was in Iraq during the 2015, 16 time frame.
Then, he says, “it was images of massive territorial control across Syria and Iraq, fighters all over the place in large scale formations. [With] armored vehicles, black flags, big parades… [now] we’re not even close to that being a reality.”
How did that blaring vision of lethal brutal force change to a ghost insurgency?
A ‘roll up the sleeves’ partnership to defeat Daesh.
On April 7, OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III sent out an eye-catching tweet with a video.
“The @modmiliq is fighting #COVID19 & hunting ISIS outlaws. Let’s look back at 2019’s successful Will of Victory ops in Anbar. 🎶Mawtini by @USArmy Sgt Brenda Bushera. 🇮🇶 تقاتل القوات العراقية (كوفيد-١٩) ، لنستمتع معًا بنشيد موطني من قبل الرقيب بريندا بوشيرا”
The @modmiliq is fighting #COVID19 & hunting ISIS outlaws. Let’s look back at 2019’s successful Will of Victory ops in Anbar. 🎶Mawtini by @USArmy Sgt Brenda Bushera. 🇮🇶 تقاتل القوات العراقية (كوفيد-١٩) ، لنستمتع معًا بنشيد موطني من قبل الرقيب بريندا بوشيرا pic.twitter.com/gTH1VpK1PU
— OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III (@OIRSpox) April 7, 2020
A see for yourself what the ‘roll up the sleeves’ partnership has done. (‘Roll up the sleeves’ not an official term). Translated it means a commitment to tactical proficiency through relentless challenging work. Add a mindset towards winning long term.
Confidence breeds capability.
(Derived from a Patriot Profiles’ interview with Brig. Gen. Bill Seely, Commander, Task Force Iraq, Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR).
ISF is able to take the fight to ISIS through increased capabilities as well as going out in the field and having successful operations.
ISF executes the ground missions. They tactically share among their own units for cohesiveness and keep U.S. mentors and advisors more and more informed. ISF continues to hone air strike coordination with the Coalition.
Air strikes must be precise operations to take out intended targets only.
“We’ve had four air strikes in the last week that we supported here at my headquarters. Killing a good number of ISIS fighters in caves and destroying the weapons caches. These types of activities continue to degrade Daesh’s numbers,” reports Seely.
Still, Daesh is not known for giving up.
“ISIS is trying to coordinate actions and the Iraqis continue to make it very difficult for them,” he adds.
U.S. military officials will hear reports that “ISIS killed some ISF personnel or Federal Police or conducted a suicide bombing here or there.” The U.S. tries to verify from Iraqi counterparts. Or they may put some intelligence assets overhead. Only to find out some of the attacks ISIS claims are deceptive boasts.
“They try to make themselves look bigger than they are on social media,” says Seely.
Direct action training works to build the force.
Considering where Iraqi forces were at in the fight against ISIS 2014-16 and now – it’s a magnitude shift. When the U.S. first started training – it was a U.S. instructor with his Iraqi instructor teaching individual soldiers tactical skills to launch into a unit. That happened for a while.
Then phase two came about. The Coalition offers higher-level advising and assisting to partner operations and is not training at the tactical level. Iraqis train Iraqis just like in a U.S. military camp. It’s a diverse menu – from small unit operations to maneuver-type training, integration of fires, and larger troop movement.
“They don’t need us standing over their shoulder, peeking over fences, and through doors to see what they are doing,” Seely assures.
As the units train and operate together a larger sense of confidence will come, as well as resiliency. They will know they can get through tough times and still hold together.
Rest, refit, train, and go back out is the formula Seely promotes and is seeing.
The third phase of the U.S./Iraqi military partnership is well said by Lieutenant General Robert White, Commanding General of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR),
“We trained and mentored more than 225,000 ISF, including army, air force, Peshmerga, federal police, counterterrorism service border guards, and energy police. The 2020 ISF are better equipped, led, and trained than just a few short years ago, and their success has allowed us to shift our focus from training to higher level mentoring and advising,” says White.
Seely works with 1, 2, and 3 Star Iraqi generals who plug into the Ministry of Defense and their national security enterprise and apparatus. At higher echelons, the U.S. can mentor and advise larger operations. The Iraqi government recognizes if they stop or let up or give the appearance of letting up, ISIS can cause trouble.
The changing landscape of counterrorism.
Years ago ISF cleared Mosul and secured the northern Iraq area. They tied in with the Kurds and are actively patrolling the border with Syria. There is no wall that surrounds the country. It’s open desert up north. Seely reminds there’s always some potential folks that are going to set up camp and attract new followers and those followers will grow into murderous jihadists high on psychostimulant Captagon, a drug dubbed ‘chemical courage’.
The Iraqi military will continue evolving with its U.S. partners. They will lean hard into ISIS to stop their destruction. Daesh insurgents proudly call their plans and objectives the “Campaign of Death”. ISF units still go out, now shouldering COVID-19 risks. They are not holding back, even during Ramadan, a religious fast, going without food or water all day in soaring heat.
ISF are committed to the nation of Iraq.
ISF denies Daesh physical space and influence in the region.They ferret out the paracells to prevent training and recruiting, disrupt communications, and unravel finance networks that fund attacks worldwide. Their counterinsurgency campaign clears the way home for the people of Iraq and Syria.
It’s important for the U.S. and the Coalition to see sustainment take root, says Seely, adding,
“Complacency kills. What they cannot do is become complacent in their own proficiency.”
The Eagle must now fly.
An eagle can’t be king of the skies with its wings clipped. The U.S. has helped train powerful fledglings to become hunters, not the hunted. With the success of ISF operators in the field, officials asked some tough questions. They evaluated the criteria – ‘ISIS activity is stabilizing – going lower and lower, while the Iraqis become more aggressive going after them’.
That converged with ongoing planning to reduce the U.S. footprint, adding in the emergence of COVID and a series of rocket attacks on the bases. Resulting in “there was no good time like the present.” Plans were executed to pull out of one base at a time. Letting the Iraqis take on more of the mission which they did and continue to do so brilliantly against ISIS, says Seely.
U.S. leaves the Iraqis ready for the counterinsurgency mission.
On March 29, @OIRSpox sent out the following,
“Today, @Coalition troops transferred $1 million of property as they depart the @CJTFOIR compound inside K1 Iraqi Air Base. This long-planned move was coordinated w/ @IraqiGovt. The ISF are successful against ISIS, Coalition troops will support from fewer places with fewer faces.”
Today, @Coalition troops transferred $1 million of property as they depart the @CJTFOIR compound inside K1 Iraqi Air Base. This long-planned move was coordinated w/ @IraqiGovt. The ISF are successful against ISIS, Coalition troops will support from fewer places w/ fewer faces. pic.twitter.com/pgeqrbi8cF
— OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III (@OIRSpox) March 29, 2020
The Coalition currently holds 6 bases after repositioning forces, with 5 of those bases holding U.S. troops. This reorganization provides closer-knit command and control nodes, consolidates resources and tools for allocation, and generally makes the multi-nation partnership more efficient.
Are Iran-backed militias the next burr in the side?
The Iran-backed militia Kata’ib Hezbollah in recent months levied the rocket attacks that hit on Iraqi bases housing American troops. Seely can’t speak for the exact goals of these militias except they are up front on social media about wanting to push the U.S. out of Iraq.
The U.S. mission is clear – to support the ISF in defeating the last elements of ISIS…
“We do not seek conflict with other groups,” but …“We reserve the right to defend ourselves against any threat. In the [recent] past, we’ve demonstrated that capability.”
From DoD, March 12. U.S launches defensive strikes on Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) facilities after two U.S. troops and 1 UK service member killed, 14 wounded in Iraq by Iranian-backed Shia militia groups (SMG). @DeptofDefense @CommDigiNews @SOJTFOIR @OIRSpox https://t.co/G9GbQdxSkN
— Patriot Girl (@jeanneemckinney) March 12, 2020
Will ISIS resurge?
Seely believes they won’t return to their former height of power in Iraq. The population has to support the insurgency. ISIS profits off coercive propaganda to turn heads and hearts to a malevolent misguided cause.
As long as ISF continues to fight for security and stability throughout the country, support from the Iraqi people is not likely to happen. Seely is touched the prayers and condolences offered when a U.S. member fighting with them is killed. He’s inspired by the resiliency and commitment of his Marines , Soldiers and others in the fight. They set the example of brother helping brother end the plague of terrorism on this planet. Conquering evil, protecting the innocent.
The U.S., Coalition nations, and the Iraqis share the defeat of Daesh day in, day out. They share the sacrifices over the years. They unite with the courage and grit it takes to warrior on for freedom. We remember them with honor and a legacy of ‘great achievement’ on this Memorial Day.
Featured Image: IRAQ, 2017. A U.S. Marine Corps sniper deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, assigned to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment demonstrates firing techniques during advanced marksmanship training at Camp Manion, Iraq. Coalition forces train ISF advanced combat skills in support of CJTF-OIR, the global Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. U.S. Army photo Spc. Christopher Brecht