Whatever criticism is leveled at CNN, some of the network’s international reporters are as badass as they come. They may wield a pen, pad, and camera instead of an M4 rifle, but they face danger just like many troops on the frontline — and keep going back despite the risk.
One of those war journos is Arwa Damon, a fluent Arab speaker and a senior international correspondent for CNN based in Istanbul. She’s covered the bloody civil war in Syria — a fight that’s taken the life of over 100 journalists since 2011 — and was recently embedded with Iraqi troops during their assault on the ISIS stronghold in Mosul.
It’s one thing to embed with U.S. troops in a combat zone — with its professionalism, training and sheer firepower embedding with American forces offers a lot of extra protection when the sh*t hits the fan. But when you’re staking your life on the effectiveness of a rebuilt military like the Iraqi army, it’s an entirely different danger equation.
During a patrol in Mosul late last year, Damon finds herself in the nightmare scenario many American troops knew well to avoid. A slow-moving convoy of up armored Humvees weaving through ever-tightening streets and alleys with bad guys maneuvering on all sides. An explosion disables the lead vehicle, another targets the trailing one. Grenades and rockets hit the MRAP, VBIDs stream in from the sides.
A veteran of many hairy combat situations herself, Damon can sense things are about to go pear shaped and when they do, it’s the CNN reporter who has to tell the Iraqis to take a strong point and get the hell off the “X.”
What follows is a nerve-wracking 20 hours of waiting for backup. No call for fire, no QRF, no gun runs are going to un-as$ this cluster. The only respite comes at daybreak when, under fire, the crew makes a break for it and barely maneuvers it out of the kill zone.
What she brought home, however, is a harrowing look at what it’s like to be at the mercy of ISIS in an enemy-controlled city relying on a military that’s got a long way to go before it can hold its own in a complex urban fight.