Iraqi, Coalition forces turning tide in fight to defeat ISIL

1 Apr 2016 | Sgt. Ricardo Hurtado 10th Marine Regiment

U.S. Marines and Sailors with II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF) packed up their bags and headed home after a nine-month deployment to Iraq’s al Anbar province at the end of March 2016.

The troops manned the command element for Task Force Al Taqaddum (TFTQ), at Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq, with the mission to advise and assist (A&A) members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) conducting operations in the province, primarily in the Ramadi area.

The team of advisors arrived in Al Taqaddum to form the task force shortly after President Barack Obama’s June 10, 2015, announcement on the augmentation of U.S. troops to provide assistance to Iraqi forces in their fight to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

In addition to the II MEF Marines, the U.S.-led coalition force is composed of augments from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Crisis Response Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC), as well and U.S. Soldiers, Airmen and components of the Australian and Italian armed forces. The task force currently operates out of Camp Manion aboard the air base.

During their tour, the team advised the leadership of the 8th Iraqi Army Division (8th IAD), which ultimately led to the recapture of Ramadi, early this year.
U.S. Marine Col. Christopher J. Douglas, the task force commander said that members of the task force advised and assisted the ISF “regarding the planning and coordination for operations in the form of surveillance and reconnaissance for key areas where [the Iraqis] were going to conduct operations” in addition to fire support planning and monitoring of the attacks.

“Nine months ago, there was a much smaller footprint [in the area]. Many capabilities had been added as a need developed within the ISF… and right now we would consider Ramadi secured,” said Douglas. “The local governance and the ISF are now enabled to focus on the stability [of the area] and security operations.”
Douglas also said the recapture of Ramadi is the result of the hard work put in by the ISF, and the task force simply served as advisors throughout the process.

“As far as the role that was played in the securing of Ramadi, really who all the credit goes to is the ISF,” said Douglas. “[Ours] was a limited role in the planning and coordination of operations.”

Through the conduct of operations, members of the task force drew from their offensive mindset to better assist their Iraqi counterparts in the planning and execution of tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs).

“[As] the Ramadi counter attacks were going on, the members of the task force, specifically the advisors, were providing training to members of the 8th (IA) Division, the Anbar Operation Command (AOC) and the 10th (IA) Division, in small number because primarily the forces were committed to the fight,” said Douglas.

The task force conducted train-the-trainer training on communications and radio operations, artillery, explosive ordnance disposal, breaching, and medical techniques.
TFTQ trained nearly 60 Iraqi soldiers on communications and radio operations and more than 40 on artillery. They also trained eight EOD teams, and approximately 40 Iraqis were trained on medical and life-saving procedures.

With their newly gained education, the Iraqis were now able to go back to their units and hold sessions to teach what they learned to other soldiers.

“We saw a real-time effect with the training that was conducted,” said Douglas. “Specific to the medical training, [Iraqi] medics that we worked with came back with casualties and the task force’s medical advisors saw the actual practical applications of some of the techniques that [our U.S. medical personnel] had shown them in training.”

In addition to the planning and coordination for operations and training, the task force also assisted in the care of wounded Iraqi Soldiers who were injured in combat.
Douglas said that this was a significant element as it gave Iraqi Soldiers the will to continue to fight.

If a wounded Iraqi soldier is brought to the gates of Camp Manion, they are first treated by U.S. Navy corpsmen, who assess the patient’s injuries, stabilize  them and perform emergency procedures on the spot, if necessary.  Based on the corpsman’s assessment, a patient could be admitted for further care by the U.S. Army medical teams. The assessment must meet the medical rules of eligibility to determine if the corpsmen are able to provide care. Iraqi Soldiers who are in danger of losing their life are seen immediately, where more routine injuries may be referred to local hospitals.

According to a medical advisor, the task force admitted 360 casualties for surgery in addition to over 100 who were treated at the gate for minor injuries during TFTQ’s nine-month deployment.

The expansion of Camp Manion, which houses the task force, is another noticeable accomplishment for the task force.

“[The camp] has grown a lot and many capabilities have been added and enhanced,” said Douglas. “I can say that all the credit goes to all of the members of the task force for their diligence, their hard work ethic and their ability to work together – regardless of service – towards the achievement of the shared and common goal, which is providing the best spot available to provide advice, assistance and training for the ISF during the Ramadi counter attacks.”

The new team of advisors arrived at Camp Manion mid-March to begin taking over the task force’s A&A mission. The team is led by U.S. Marine Col. Sam Cook from II MEF. This is Cook’s third deployment to Iraq, and he hopes to be as successful as Douglas’ team was.

“The previous team under Col. Douglas had an outstanding success with the recapture of Ramadi; I hope to continue that success,” said Cook. “And I look forward to the challenge of helping the Iraqi Security Forces retake their country.”

Cook is also excited to work with other branches of services and is confident in his team.

“I’m looking forward to working in a joint environment with Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and the Marines we brought out here from across the [II Marine Expeditionary Force],” said Cook. “Every Marine in II MEF, which is the core of the command element here at the task force, comes from across the [2nd Marine Aircraft Wing], the [2nd Marine Division], and the [2nd Marine Logistics Group]. They were all hand selected and approved by their commanding generals, so the core command element is top notch.”