AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Things have changed a bit around Al Taqaddum Air Base in Iraq since the 2011 withdraw of U.S. troops in the Anbar province. What once was a busy hub for aircraft coming in to scatter the area with military personnel now seems far more subtle in its footprint.
The Iraqi military installation now houses different components of the Iraqi Security Forces, including the 8th Iraqi Army Division and the Anbar Operations Command.
The AOC is staffed by Iraqi military leaders and is the brains of operations in the Anbar province. It moved to Al Taqaddum shortly after the fall of Ramadi last summer.
A team of advisors arrived in Al Taqaddum, to form a task force, shortly after President Obama’s June 10 announcement on the augmentation of U.S. troops in the Anbar province to advise and assist Iraqi forces.
“We have [service members] that have experience in specific areas and they provide advice in the form of planning and coordinating combat operations for the ISF to execute them here in Ramadi during the counter attacks,” said U.S. Marine Col. Christopher J. Douglas, commander of TFTQ. “The assistance we provide is specifically in the form of intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance flights and air support and strikes that are provided by coalition aircraft.”
Task Force Al Taqaddum currently operates out of Camp Manion in Al Taqaddum. It is a U.S.-led coalition force composed of Marines and Sailors from II Marine Expeditionary Force and augments from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response - Central Command, as well as U.S. Soldiers with 1st Infantry Division, Airmen with U.S. Air Forces Central Command, and components of the Australian and Italian armed forces.
The task force’s mission is to advise and assist Iraqi Security Forces in operations in the Ramadi area.
U.S. Marines are embedded full time as advisors to the AOC. The Americans work, eat and sleep at the AOC compound providing around-the-clock advise and assist support.
A Marine advisor explained that Iraqi troops call in from the frontlines to the AOC via their individual command operation centers to report encounters, firefights and intelligence data. As advisors, the Marines help coordinate operations, such as airstrikes and counter attacks on the spot. All strikes and operations are ultimately approved by Iraqi leaders.
“This is an important mission at the strategic level because Daesh is believed to be a threat to [the U.S.] at some point… if they were given freedom of operation and were able to take over large portions of territory in Syria and Iraq and have access to money and influence, [Daesh would] potentially be able to strike us back in the U.S.,” said a U.S. Marine and primary advisor to the 8th Iraqi Army Division. “On a more operational level, we’ve been partners with Iraq since the invasion in 2001, so we are here to support them, keep them as a viable country, and a big portion of it is having a legitimate military capable of defending its borders and kicking out threats like ISIS and things like that, which provides stability to the region.”
Besides providing assistance to the AOC, the task force also works alongside the 8th, 10th and 16th Divisions of the Iraqi Army, as well as the Anbar National Police and the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service.
TFTQ has played a significant role on the Ramadi counter attacks, ensuring the ISF have the right tools to defeat the enemy.
“Another big component that TFTQ does is that it provides medical care. It’s huge, because it provides the will to fight,” said a U.S. Marine advisor to the AOC. “They know that when they are fighting and something happens to them there is medical help fairly close and they are going to be taken care of.”
The medical team for TFTQ is composed of U.S. Soldiers with the 772nd Forward Surgical Team, the 115th Combat Support Hospital and U.S. Navy Corpsmen with II MEF and SPMAGTF-CR-CC.
Wounded Iraqi soldiers are brought to the gates of Camp Manion, where they are first treated by U.S. Navy corpsmen.
The corpsmen asses the patient’s injuries, stabilize the casualties and perform emergency procedures on the spot, if necessary. Based on the corpsmen’s assessment, it is determined if a patient will 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, while more routine injuries may be referred to local hospitals.
Although circumstances in the area call for an operational mindset, TFTQ takes any opportunity to provide training to Iraqi units that are stationed in Al Taqaddum or nearby.
“The environment that we are in right now is not a learning environment, we are very much in an operational environment where training is not the primary focus,” said a U.S. Marine primary advisor to the 8th Iraqi Army Division. “That being said there are training opportunities. With the 8th Iraqi division we’ve conducted artillery training, communication training, medical training, explosive ordnance disposal and engineer training, all uniquely with 8th Division because they are based out of [Al Taqaddum] already.”
Douglas said that since their arrival in Al Taqaddum the progress has been noticeable and steady, and that despite setbacks “the ISF have remained strong, have executed counter attacks and retaken any ground that they lost.”
“They retook that Local Government Center within the city of Ramadi, that’s deep in the center of [the city],” added Douglas. “[They’re] clearing the city of Ramadi so it can ultimately be turned back over to local ISF and the local police to work together and provide the stability and security within the area.”
Members of the task force remain confident in the ability of the ISF to effectively use the training and tools provided as part of the advise and assist efforts.
“We are side-by-side in the fact that we want them to be as successful as if we were out there doing it ourselves,” said a U.S. Marine advisor to the AOC. “We are aiding them with assistance, we are providing the eyes in the sky, we are providing them with bombs on target, and that gives them the confidence that they are not in the fight alone."