The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
Airmen push down on the wing of a U-2 after its landing at Royal Air Force Fairford, England, June 9, 2015. If the aircraft lands slightly off balance, it has the potential to tilt to one side or another.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Talon Leinbaugh, 66th Rescue Squadron aerial gunner, conducts aerial surveillance in an HH-60G Pave Hawk over the Pacific Ocean during Angel Thunder 2015, June 11, 2015. Angel Thunder is hosted by the 355th Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., but many flying operations will extend throughout Arizona, New Mexico and California.
Soldiers from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) cast a line from a combat rubber raiding craft to Sailors in the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) during combined training with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU).
The U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, perform the Diamond 360 maneuver at the Ocean City Air Show. The Blue Angels are scheduled to perform 68 demonstrations at 35 locations across the U.S. in 2015.
Paratroopers, assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, rehearse amphibious landings aboard British Navy landing craft as part of Exercise BALTOPS 2015 in Ravlunda, Sweden.
Falling in style. Gunnery Sgt. Eddie Myers, parachute safety officer assigned to Detachment 4th Force Reconnaissance Company, parachutes from a UH-1Y Venom helicopter during airborne insertion training at the flight line aboard Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay.
Mud bath. Marines and Sailors competed in the 2015 Commanding General’s Cup Mud Run at Camp Pendleton, California.
Just a few months ago, the Coast Guard officially stood up its 22nd rating, the dive rating for enlisted members and dive specialty for chief warrant officers.
When Italy entered World War II on the Axis side, things were looking pretty good from where fascist dictator Benito Mussolini sat. He had an army of some 200,000 men, he controlled Libya, Mediterranean Islands and much of East Africa. He was in an alliance with two of the world’s great powers of the day. His eyes were set on conquering a Mediterranian empire that stretched from “the Strait of Gibraltar to the Strait of Hormuz.”
That, of course, isn’t how it turned out. In fact, Mussolini never even came close. Italy failed to achieve much of what it tried to do and the great victories by Italian troops often came under the direction of German leadership, victories which history tends to give to the Germans. Fascist Italy probably should have fared better, but didn’t. Here’s why:
1. Italy was not prepared for war.
Before the war started, Italian officials estimated that production of wartime needs could not possibly make the Italian army ready for war until 1942. When Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy first signed their friendship pact in 1939, it stipulated that neither side should go to war before 1943 for this reason.
We all know what a pact with Hitler was worth. When the fighting actually got going, Italy’s industrial output was a fraction of what France, Germany and Britain were already producing. Despite Italy’s great power status, the real infrastructure and capabilities of the country did not match its public image.
2. Their weapons were outdated.
Even though Italy had its share of colonial ambitions and conquests, much of its military was still using old weapons and gear from World War I. The air force was flying biplanes, the navy had no aircraft carriers, the army had very old tanks, and radios were almost nonexistent.
Italy did create a powerful homegrown tank concept early on in the war, before the United States entered World War II. But its prototype wasn’t finished until 1942 and it never reached production. Even if they’d had the equipment and weapons (they didn’t) they would never have been able to mass-produce them (see #1).
3. Italy lost one of its greatest military leaders early on.
It was Benito Mussolini who became the fascist leader of Italy. It probably should have been his deputy, Italo Balbo, but it wasn’t and Italy was worse off for it. Balbo was everything Mussolini was not. Mussolini deserted during his military service but later served two years as penance. Balbo joined the army as an officer during World War I, and became one of the country’s vaunted alpine troops and served courageously on the front line.
After the war, and when the fascists came to power, it became Balbo’s responsibility to build the Italian Air Force in the 1920s and 1930s. He taught himself to fly and in five years was Italy’s Marshal of the Air Force and a world-class pilot. His military skill in Africa was unmatched among fascist leaders and he was ready to take the war into Egypt against the British Empire. But he was shot down and killed by his own troops in Libya.
His replacement, Rodolfo Graziani is better known for his repressive policies and crimes against humanity than he was for any battlefield skill. Graziani was so bad that he was only allowed to remain a general because he was personally loyal to Mussolini.
4. Mussolini’s eyes were bigger than his stomach.
Mussolini knew all of these facts. He knew Italy wasn’t prepared for war with the great powers in any way. Overwhelming Ethiopians was one thing, but large-scale mechanized warfare on three continents was another thing altogether. Italy only entered the war after the Fall of France in 1940, believing the war would soon be over with minimal effort on the Italians’ part.
Because of his belief that the war would be over relatively quickly, Mussolini felt confident in invading France and demanding concessions without actually planning and implementing a consistent strategy for defending or advancing Italian interests. When he did mobilize Italian troops in Greece, for example, he soon found his army overwhelmed.
5. They were ill-trained.
This is not the fault of the Italian troops themselves, but rather a fault of the poor planning of Italian leadership. With 200,000 men at arms under his command, Mussolini could boast one of the world’s largest armies. In truth the men were mostly foot soldiers, carrying small arms. They would also have to walk wherever they were going because Italy couldn’t produce the transports needed to drive them.
There just wasn’t enough money budgeted toward training the men in World War II’s way of war. They eventually fielded some great mechanized anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, but the men expected to operate those weapons just weren’t trained the way troops in the German Wehrmacht or U.S. Army were. Italians were trained at the front lines and their performance suffered as a result.
6. Italian forces were often far from their supply lines.
It’s true Italy couldn’t produce enough materials to sustain its army effectively, but even if they could, there was no great way of getting supplies to the fight. For fighting in North and East Africa, Italian supplies had to be ferried across the Mediterranean, which was full of the British Royal Navy just looking for something they could send to the bottom of the sea.
When German Gen. Erwin Rommel took command of the Afrika Korps, most of his troops were Italians, and his performance was a testament to what Italian troops could do when properly led and fed, but even Rommel was subject to supply line failure, which was the principal reason for the Axis defeat in North Africa.
A number of planes are competing to see which will replace the legendary Warthog. Among the competitors are the OV-10X from Boeing, the Textron Scorpion, the A-29 Super Tucano, and the AT-6 Texan.
And while these new planes have their advantages for close air support, they lack some key attributes that makes the A-10 the beloved “Hog” that it is.
3. No armor for the pilot – or other stuff
Let’s be honest, one of the reasons we love the A-10 is that it can take a beating and bring the pilot home. The tale of Kim “Killer Chick” Campbell doesn’t happen with a Tucano or Texan. It just doesn’t. So don’t give us some small prop job and tell us you gave us an A-10 replacement, okay? Just. Freakin’. Don’t.
Not bad for a COIN mission, but weak at supporting boots on the ground in a heavy firefight.
1. No GAU-8
The A-10 was built around the GAU-8, a 30mm Gatling cannon. It could hold 1,174 rounds’ worth of BRRRRRT!
Now, the old OV-10 that served in Vietnam and Desert Storm had guns – four M60 machine guns. That’s right four 7.62mm machine guns. The OV-10X swaps them out for M3 .50-caliber machine guns. Not bad when you wanna take out Taliban, but a problem when facing tanks.
Now, there was a gun pod that had a version of the GAU-8 with four barrels as opposed to seven, and with 353 rounds. Not bad, but it’s not a GAU-8 mount.
Don’t get us wrong, the OV-10 makes for a nice COIN bird, and the Textron Scorpion could be a nice, cheap supplementary multi-role fighter.
But let’s get down to the ground truth: If you want to replace the A-10, do it right. And if you can’t replace the A-10 with a new plane, then just admit that the best A-10 replacement is another A-10 and just get them back in production. Is that too much to ask?
Guests and family members who flock to the Arlington Cemetery this Independence Day week will have to leave their America flags at home.
Current law does not permit people to bring American flags to grave sites after Congress passed legislation following protests from the Westboro Baptist Church at service members funerals, The Washington Post reported July 4.
Former Michigan GOP Rep. Mike Rogers helped pass the Respect For America’s Fallen Heroes Act in 2006, making it illegal to protest funerals within 300 feet of a cemetery. The legislation had the unintended consequence of barring the bringing of “any placard, banner, flag, or similar device.”
Flags are permitted, however, if they are “part of a funeral, memorial service, or ceremony.”
Violating the law can bring penalties of up to a year in jail. While the bill received bipartisan support, the ACLU contended the law violated the First Amendment based on censorship.
“If someone is in there with the colors in a respectful way, or paying homage in a respectful way, then they should allow it,” Paul Rieckhoff founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
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Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commanding general of MARSOC, told Military.com the command has already received several requests from female Marines to enter the assessment and selection pipeline to become a critical skills operator. While Osterman could not specify how many women had applied, he said the first female applicant surfaced only days after the Jan. 4 deadline Defense Secretary Ash Carter set for new jobs to open.
“The very first week of January … we had one female applicant on the West Coast,” Osterman said. “Unfortunately, there was something in the prerequisite stuff she didn’t have, a [general technical] score or something. It was, ‘get re-tested and come on back,’ that kind of thing.”
Osterman said MARSOC is actively soliciting and recruiting qualified female Marines to join the command’s ranks. The command does not have, as Osterman put it, a “street to fleet” recruiting program; rather, it recruits from within the ranks of the Marine Corps.
To qualify for MARSOC critical skills operator assessment and selection, a Marine must be a seasoned corporal or a sergeant, or a first lieutenant or captain. The Marine must also have a minimum GT score of 105 and a minimum physical fitness test score of 225 out of 300, and be able to pass a command swim assessment and meet medical screening criteria.
“We’ve actively identified all the females in the Marine Corps writ large who meet all the prerequisites just like with our normal screening teams,” Osterman said. “We’ve notified or contacted every one of them and let them know, ‘it’s open, you’re eligible.'”
MARSOC submitted its broad implementation plan to the Secretary of Defense at the beginning of January after receiving input from the Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Command, Osterman said. In terms of training and job skills, he said, the command does have an advantage over the Marine Corps in that there were already clear gender-neutral physical standards in place for critical skills operators, while the Corps has only recently created such standards for infantry jobs.
MARSOC’s training pipeline is notoriously grueling. After a three-week initial assessment and selection period that tests physical fitness and a range of other aptitudes, Marines enter a second, 19-day assessment and selection training phase. Applicants who make it through both AS phases can then begin a nine-month individual training course that covers survival, evasion, resistance and escape [SERE], special reconnaissance, close urban combat, irregular warfare and many other skill sets.
Osterman said Wednesday that 40 percent of Marines who enter the MARSOC pipeline go on to become critical skills operators.
“When [Marines] go into assessment and screening, it’s a very holistic psychological profile. It’s swim, it’s physical fitness, but we don’t even count the PFT as part of the evaluation. It’s much more comprehensive than that,” Osterman said. “It’s a pretty sophisticated standardization system which is nice in that, again, we already had this and it’s gender-neutral already.”
MARSOC is also making plans to prepare its leadership for the advent of female trainees and operators, Osterman said.
Acknowledging the study, Osterman said he planned to hold a town hall meeting for MARSOC leadership to discuss the implementation of Carter’s gender integration mandate and to discuss thoughts and concerns.
“The tone and tenor from my perspective is, the concern was mostly about standards,” Osterman said of the Rand report. “Our standards are as they’ve always been and we’re not changing them.”
On a personal note, Osterman said he could see benefits to having female operators downrange.
“There are things that women can do, as I’ve seen many times in Afghanistan and Iraq, where there’s a lot of value added in the combined arms kind of approach,” he said.
Army Capt. James E. Miller, one of the first aviators in the U.S. military and the first U.S. aviation casualty in World War I, has been named recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross nearly 100 years after his heroic actions over France in 1918.
On the 242nd birthday of the Army, during a twilight tattoo ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, Acting Secretary of the Army Robert M. Speer presented the Distinguished Flying Cross to Miller’s great-grandson, Byron Derringer.
“We’re very proud today to have some of the descendants from James Miller’s family here and able to represent him and a lineage of what he achieved on those battlefields as the first individual who gave his life in that war in aviation,” Speer said.
The presentation of the cross to a World War I soldier is significant, given that the theme for this year’s Army birthday is, “Over There! A Celebration of the World War I Soldier.”
America Enters World War I
The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. On Dec. 7, 1917, the U.S. declared war on Austria-Hungary, Germany’s ally.
“This is the 100th anniversary of [America’s entry into] World War I,” Speer said. “And it’s the 242nd birthday of our Army. But 100 years ago, there were significant changes in terms of the character of war. You had at that time, for the first time, the Army going off to war in foreign lands with our allies, fighting side-by-side with our allies, and representing the United States — which placed the United States into a significant leadership role in the world.”
Speer said several aspects of warfare changed during World War I, including the development of armor units and precision artillery. One of the most significant developments, however, was that the U.S. military had “aviation for the first time as part of the U.S. Army Air Corps,” he said.
“We have a privilege today to be able to recognize not only the heraldry of our total 242 years but also that point and time, where we recognize, late, a Distinguished Flying Cross for an American hero,” Speer said.
As part of a twilight tattoo event at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., held on honor of the Army’s 242nd birthday, Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer, left, and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, right, present a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for Army Capt. James E. Miller to Miller’s great-grandson, Byron Derringer, center, June 14, 2017.
Early 20th Century Aviation Warfare
As a soldier in World War I, Miller was one of the first to make use of new aviation technology. The captain took command of the 95th Pursuit Squadron on Feb. 10, 1918 — just 10 months after the United States declared war on Germany. The men in the squadron were the first American-trained pilots to fight in the war.
On March 9 of that year, Miller, Maj. M. F. Harmon and Maj. Davenport Johnson began the first combat patrol ever for the U.S. Army Air Services. They flew 180-horsepower, French-built SPAD XIII aircraft. The aircraft, a biplane, is named for its developer, the Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés.
Harmon’s plane experienced trouble early in the sortie, and so he was unable to continue on the patrol. But Miller and Johnson pressed on together and crossed into enemy territory. There, they fought off two German aircraft, but soon met more. It was then that Johnson’s aircraft experienced trouble with the machine guns.
Miller Fights On
According to the DFC citation, Johnson was forced to leave Miller to continue the fight against German aviators on his own.
“Miller continued to attack the two German biplanes, fearlessly exposing himself to the enemy, until his own aircraft was severely damaged and downed behind the German lines, where he succumbed to his injuries,” the citation reads. “Miller’s actions are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the United States Army Air Services and the American Expeditionary Forces.”
Afterward, Derringer said of both the recognition and the twilight tattoo that accompanied the recognition, “it’s spectacular, I know that the family, everybody, is just honored to be here.”
During his time in the Corps, Hackman was demoted three times for leaving his post without proper authorization.
After Hackman had been discharged, the San Bernardino native went on to study journalism and TV production at the University of Illinois. By 30, he had broken into a successful acting career and would be nominated for five Academy Awards and winning two for his roles in “The French Connection” and “Unforgiven.”
Hackman is credited with approximately 100 film and TV roles and is currently retired from acting.
The officer who’s running a massive Marine Corps and Navy war game in April that’ll test around 50 new technologies for storming beaches actually wants things to go wrong.
Navy Capt. Chris Mercer, a top tester for the service’s future concepts and technologies office, went so far as to say during a March 23 meeting with reporters: “If we don’t fail, I haven’t done my job.”
Now, before you start measuring Mercer for a new white coat with a very snug fit, think about this. With the upcoming Ship To Shore Maneuver Exploration and Experimentation Advanced Naval Technology Exercise 2017 in April, the Marines are looking to change how they carry out forced-entry operations. Forget what you saw in “The Pacific” – the renowned HBO series actually presents an outdated view on such operations. It’s not going to be sending hundreds of Higgins boats to storm a beach under heavy fire. Instead, the Marines, rather than storming a surveyed beach, will be looking for what Doug King of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory called a “gap in the mangroves.”
But how will they find that gap? The answer lies in new technology – and this is what ANTX 2017 is intended to evaluate. With over 50 dynamic demonstrations planned for the 11-day exercise and another 50 static displays, ANTX 2017’s purpose is to find out what the state of today’s technology is – and to turn “unknown unknowns” into” known unknowns” or “known knowns” — to borrow from the logic former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made popular.
“In these early stages of prototype demonstrations and experimentation, the intent is to push the envelope and take on higher risk technologies,” Mercer told We Are The Mighty. “We expect to find systems that perform well technically, but score low in the operational assessment and vice versa.”
“If everything is performing well and going exactly as planned, then we were probably not aggressive enough in our efforts to advance.”
So, that’s why Mercer is hoping to see failures during ANTX 2017 — if you don’t fail, you don’t learn.
On Aug. 16, 1812, American General William Hull surrendered Fort Detroit to the British without a fight.
Maybe it was the overwhelming English and Native American forces gathered outside the walls. Maybe it was the fact that his daughter and grandchildren were inside those walls.
Either way, the aging Hull just wasn’t feeling it.
His twenty-five hundred men and their weapons — including three dozen cannons — were surrendered to the Brits as well. The militiamen were allowed to return to their frontier homes while the Regular Army soldiers became POWs in Canada.
In 1813, future president William Henry Harrison would recapture Detroit and in 1814, Hull was court-martialed for cowardice and sentenced to death by shooting, though his execution would be pardoned by President James Madison due to Hull’s service in the Revolutionary War.
Roughly 15,000 Americans died as a result of the War of 1812. Roughly 8,600 British and Canadian soldiers died from battle or disease. The losses among Native American tribes are not known.
Featured Image: Siege of Detroit. (John Wycliffe Lowes Forster, 1938)
North Carolina Representative Walter Jones wants to elevate the Marines to be included in the name of the Navy Department. For the past 15 years, he has introduced legislation into the annual National Defense Authorization Act to create “the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps.” Each year the action gets increased support in both houses of Congress but ultimately is shot down in the Senate. Jones believes not including the Marines in the official name of the department is an offense to Marines who’ve fought and died for the United States.
“When we die, when mama and dada get that letter of condolence, it would be kind of nice if the Marine Corps was mentioned,” famous Marine Corps alum R. Lee Ermey told the Marine Corps Times in 2010. “Just change the letterhead. What’s the harm in that?”
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the harm would come in the form of a cost of about $500,000 per year over a few years’ time. Since the National Security Act of 1947 delineated the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps as separate services, the only change to the Marines’ structure was the addition of the Commandant of the Marine Corps to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1979.
Jones was elected in 1995 to North Carolina’s 3rd District, which includes Camp Lejune and Marine Corps Air Station New River. He has been introducing this legislation since 2001.
In 2010, Jones’ amendment was introduced to the House as a standalone bill, but even then, with 415 cosponsors (there are only 435 Representatives in the House), the Senate still killed it. Jones’ 2010 bill received the most cosponsors of any bill in Congress since the Congressional Record started keeping track. The effort to kill that bill was led by Senator John McCain.
“This isn’t about Walter Jones,” Jones told The Hill. “This isn’t about John McCain. This is about the Marines who serve this country. Haven’t they earned the right to be recognized?”
To celebrate the end of 2014, the US Navy compiled a list of its top ten favorite photos the branch took this year.
The Navy’s 2014 list was selected from its photos that it had shared on Facebook and Instagram based on the number of fan likes. The top ten images represent the diversity of the Navy, ranging from the controversial littoral combat system to the Navy Blue Angels and everything in between. The photos also give a sense of the branch’s massive and even worldwide geographic sweep.
Below are the Navy’s most striking images of the past year.
In 2014, the Navy successfully deployed two of its littoral combat ships to the Pacific, putting the branch’s proposed ship of the future in an area of increasing US interest.
The USS Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, carried out a patrol on the Black Sea.
Meanwhile, in California, the Navy flight demonstration team the Blue Angels practiced their formation flying. The team had to complete 120 practice flights before kicking off the 2014 air show season.
Prospective Navy SEALs participate din the Surf Passage, one of the first phases of the physically and mentally demanding SEAL training.
Constant training is important across the Navy. Here, an MH-60S Sea Hawk participates in an exercise off the coast of the Hawaii during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.
The Navy’s constant vigilance can make heavy demands of its personnel. Here, submarine Sonar Technician 2nd Class Willian Wade holds his daughter for the first time moments after arriving back at Submarine Base New London from a deployment.
The Navy’s reach means that it has constant international obligations. Here, a Carrier Strike Group participates in a maneuvering exercise alongside a Peruvian submarine in the Atlantic Ocean.
Of course, there is more to the Navy than just ships. Here, sailors with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Training Evaluation Unit maintain their jump qualifications by parachuting out of a C2-A.
In terms of missions, 2014 was a busy time for the Navy. Here, the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush passes through the Gulf of Aden after supporting strike operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Navy sailors enjoy a selfie just as much as anyone else. Here, Capt. Greg Fenton, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, takes a selfie with Capt. Carlos Sardiello, Master Chief Shaun Brahmsteadt, and 275 new petty officers after a command frocking ceremony.
During the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force experimented with a seemingly crazy idea for dispersing the weight of their heaviest bomber across the tarmac of airports and bases. They would fit the bombers with tank tread-inspired landing gear.
Convair XB-36 takeoff during its first flight on March 29, 1950. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)
When flying shorter routes, the plane could carry as much as 86,000 pounds.
The massive B-36 was slowly developed throughout World War II but was finished too late for the war. The first bomber rolled off the line six days after the Japanese surrender. But the plane’s capabilities, carrying 10,000 pounds of ordnance to targets thousands of miles away, made the plane perfect for a nuclear strike role in the Cold War.
There was one big problem, though. The B-36 was extremely heavy, about 419,000 pounds when fully armed. And all that weight initially sat on two smaller tires in the front and two larger ones under the wings.
The weight on each tire was so great, the Peacemakers risked sinking into the concrete if they were parked for too long on most airstrips.
So the Air Force tried out a novel solution. They installed tank tread landing gear under the nose and both wings of the plane, allowing the weight to be spread over a much larger area.
Initial tests of the system were successful, but the Air Force scrapped it anyway. It focused on improving more airstrips rather than putting the bulky system on production B-36s. It did start buying the planes with four smaller wheels under each wing instead of the single large one, which also helped with the pressure per square inch on airfields.
Gunfire sounds in the background. In an adjacent alleyway, Islamic State snipers keep watch for movement. On the roof above our heads the Iraqi Security Forces are pouring fire into buildings occupied by the terrorists.
Five members of the Iraqi Federal Police sit on chairs and boxes in a street, sheltered from the battle. One of their colleagues is busy trying to pry open a box of .50 caliber ammo, as another man feeds a belt of bullets into the squad’s machine gun. It’s the sixth month of the battle to re-take Mosul and coming up on the third anniversary of Iraq’s war against ISIS.
In the battle for Mosul, the Iraqi Army has deployed a variety of its best units, including the 9th Armored Division, the black-clad Special Operations Forces, and the Federal Police.
The name may conjure up traffic stops and men rescuing kittens from trees, but in the Iraqi context “federal police” is a mechanized infantry unit: thousands of men in dark blue camouflage with Humvees and machine guns. Accompanying them is another elite unit called the ERD, or Emergency Response Division.
Together they have done the heavy lifting since January, when the operation to liberate West Mosul began. Street-by-street they have fought to dislodge what remains of the “caliphate.” There are fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters left, according to the Iraqis and their American-led coalition allies. But these are the hard core — many of them foreign fighters, such as the Chechen snipers who have been dealing death on this front for months.
ISIS has burrowed into the Old City of Mosul, into buildings that date back hundreds of years. Here they are making one of their last stands around the Nuri Mosque, where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his so-called caliphate in 2014.
They’ll fight to the death in the basement of the mosque, an Iraqi officer thinks.
Lieutenant Col. John Hawbaker, commander of a combat team of the 82nd Airborne Division, which is advising and assisting the Iraqi forces, served in Iraq during the surge of 2005-2006, when America was fighting the Iraqi insurgency. He says the contrast today is extraordinary.
Ten years ago the Iraqi Army was more limited than today.
“The Federal Police are extremely professional and disciplined and capable, and that’s one of the biggest differences from 10 years ago,” he declares. The U.S.-led coalition that is helping to defeat ISIS stresses that the Iraqis are fully in charge of the operation and they are the ones leading it.
Jared Kushner and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford were in Baghdad on April 3 to illustrate the high priority the U.S. puts on Iraq’s efforts to crush ISIS.
That’s obvious on the ground. Although the coalition provides artillery and air support, there is no visible presence of coalition forces at the front. It is Iraqis carrying the fight.
The older Iraqi officers have been fighting ISIS in Fallujah, Ramadi, and other cities for the last two years. They say the battle for Mosul is difficult, because ISIS cannot retreat there and has to fight to the last man. But they’ve seen more serious battles in 2015 when ISIS was stronger.
Their men have been forged in this war. As we crawled through holes smashed in the walls of houses to make our way to the roof of one position, soldiers were in each room. One team was looking out for snipers, another preparing RPGs, and others catching a bit of rest on cots. On the roof, soldiers are unlimbering an SPG-9, a kind of long-barreled cannon on a tripod that fires RPGs through a small hole cut in the wall.
“The ISF have victory in hand — it is inevitable; they know it and ISIS knows it. Everyone can see and knows they will win,” says Hawbaker.
ISIS was like a shot in the arm for Baghdad; it provided the existential threat that has led to the creation of an increasingly professional, stronger army that is more self-assured than it was before 2014. The next years will reveal if Iraq can build on that success.