U.S. solidifies commitment to Iraqi partners in fight to defeat ISIL

31 Mar 2016 | Gunnery Sgt. Christine Polvorosa 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade

It has been nine months since the second iteration of Task Force Al Asad’s advise and assist team stepped on deck, and in that time, an ironclad partnership was forged and lasting friendships were made.

However, now it’s time for the next team to grab the baton and continue its support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve’s mission to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The relief-in-place and transfer-of-authority ceremony for the task force’s core contingent was held March 22 at Al Asad Air Base where U.S. Marine Col. David Casey, as the outgoing task force commander, relinquished his authorities to U.S. Marine Col. Paul Nugent.

“Like any other team, we hope we’ve established a solid foundation for them,” said Casey, who returned to his parent command of I Marine Expeditionary Force, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. “However, we don’t expect [the new team] to be status quo; they are going to take [the Iraqi forces] to another level, and the momentum they will have going into operations really should facilitate a bunch of other things we’ll see in the future.”

But Casey’s biggest hope for the new team is that they will be the driving force for the Iraqis to clear Daesh from outside the Euphrates corridor – from Hit to Haditha.

The momentum Casey references comes on the tipping point of the 7th Iraqi Army Division’s latest offensive launched on the Kubaysah cement factory, further enabling the 7th IAD to conduct follow-on attacks to liberate the city of Kubaysah and ultimately, the city of Hit.

“We couldn’t be, right now, at a better point to have [seen our Iraqi partners] all the way through the training, worked with them, and now we’re right here at [the culmination], and they are raring to go,” said Casey. “They’re excited; there’s no trepidation whatsoever; they’re very confident going after Daesh, and that has been the biggest change.”

Under Casey’s command, the A&A team accomplished feats that cannot be quantified by data, but measured as an invaluable transformation. 

“The attitude of the Iraqi soldiers and the leadership, which goes through the entire organization, (is the difference),” Casey said. “Their motivation right now, their confidence, their desire to go do things, has just been phenomenal.” 

To many of the task force members, there’s no doubt the success of the Iraqi Security Forces can be attributed to the confidence in their training and ability to effectively execute operations to defeat the enemy.

As part of the A&A mission, Casey’s team advised the al-Jazira al-Badiyah Operations Center and the 7th IAD in the planning and execution of three primary offensive operations and a number of enemy attacks – retaking checkpoints and enemy-held objectives. They also continued sustainment of the ISF by bolstering their operations with fires support, close air support, and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities. 

“We have learned much from Col. Casey’s team,” said the 7th IAD liaison officer to TFAA. “If [the Iraqi forces] learned even five percent of what the U.S. [military] knew, we would be a great army.”

Through the task force’s building partner capacity mission, the ISF received training on basic combat skills, which include military tactics, marksmanship, weapons handling, counter-improvised explosive devices, military operations in urban terrain, mortar system employment, battlefield medicine, land navigation, and periods of instruction in leadership, ethics, the law of war and curriculums in specialized fields.

When the task force was first established, the BPC training syllabus focused solely on the 7th IAD. Since then, TFAA’s mission has evolved from a defense mandate to a national mandate to train Iraqi federal police, and future plans to extend training to border security, Casey added. This strategy ultimately supports the Iraqis with their long-term training needs. 

“The training has changed a lot from force sustainment to force generation training,” said Royal Danish Guard Lt. Col. Kenneth Strom, the executive officer for TFAA and commanding officer of the Danish Contingent. “[As of March 15, 2016], we started training Iraqi federal police, which is an entirely new experience for DANCON.

Strom confirmed there are currently 318 federal police in the course, receiving a four-week period of instruction on military training, which include marksmanship, first aid, counter-improvised explosive device, and squad and platoon tactics.

Ultimately, the team wants the police to be able to operate independently and in concert at a platoon level in areas of conflict or provide support for buildups and in rural areas, Strom added.

DANCON expects to train up to six courses during the next year, or about the size of a battalion.

The increase of the task force’s mission also includes expansion of the air base to meet training requirements; therefore, the understanding between the Government of Iraq and the U.S. is illustrated in the presence of coalition forces at Al Asad. 

“We’ve been working with the Iraqis to expand the (coalition) footprint and continue to support the expansion of Al Asad, bringing in more assets and capabilities,” said Casey, “so with that speaks to the long-term relationship with our Iraqi partners.”

Though Casey and his team will not be on the ground to see firsthand the long-term plans come to fruition, he is assured by the new team’s resolve to continue the task force’s pledge to CJTF-OIR’s multinational coalition in helping the GOI to set the conditions to defeat ISIL.

“[Our Iraqi partners] weren’t really sure about the nature of our commitment, and why we’re here or what we’re doing,” said Casey. “And I think now they truly understand that our partnership is a very good one, and our partnership as it is now, today, will lead to the success they want, which is defeating Daesh and restoring their borders.”

TFAA’s second iteration A&A team returned to its home station late March. 

“I would like to thank [Casey] for a very close relationship and for the welcome his team presented to us when we arrived, handing over all their good experiences from the last seven and a half months,” said Strom. “It’s been a big pleasure to work with them, and I hope the new team will have the same professional spirit and trust (and belief) that we can make a difference here. It has been a true privilege.”