Return to Baghdad

Earlier this year I wrote an update about the incredibly heroic efforts of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) in the outlying areas of Mosul. CTS is a primary US partner in the coalition against ISIS and, coincidentally, a force I advised some years ago. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to return to Baghdad as a guest of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service and their current US advisors.

During this short trip, I had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends in the CTS and to speak with them frankly about their efforts—and the challenges—to sustain their force as they combat ISIS. A key topic of discussion was Spirit of America’s plan to support the expansion of existing rehabilitation facilities, a project that I hope to update you about soon.

Me and MG Falah, commander of the ICTS Training Academy

While it was incredible to reconnect with friends and see a part of Iraq to which I never imagined I would return, it quickly grew apparent to me that many of the faces I remembered were missing. However, when I asked directly about the casualties, it became clear that I had touched a nerve.

The number of casualties CTS has suffered since the emergence of ISIS is disproportionate to those suffered by the other sections of the Iraqi Security Forces. CTS, in many ways, is a victim of its own success. After halting ISIS’s advance on Baghdad in 2014, they became the go-to force and were relied upon by the Iraqi government to lead the subsequent clearing operations in Fallujah and Ramadi, and now again in Mosul.

The current CTS rehabilitation clinic in Baghdad

Since the start of the Mosul offensive in October of 2016, CTS’s force of 7,000 operators has suffered more than 3,600 casualties. While many of these brave men have returned to duty, the numbers are astonishing and highlight the brutality of this fight. In fact, in the opening week of the offensive in eastern of Mosul—which is now clear and is the staging point for operations into the western side—CTS reported nearly 1,000 wounded and 56 killed in action.

As the fight continues in the more densely populated neighborhoods and narrow alleys of western Mosul (the old city), the combat—with ISIS backed into a corner—is expected to be more intense by orders of magnitude. ISIS has spent months fortifying the old city, building fighting positions, emplacing IEDs, and digging tunnel networks to move swiftly from area to area. In the coming weeks, CTS operators will be forced to painstakingly clear the remainder of the city, building by building, through prepared ambushes, IEDed streets, and into booby-trapped houses, all while constrained by ISIS’s many civilian hostages, now being used as human shields to limit the use of air support and other coalition tactics.

Me standing by a ICTS HMMWV

This is why it is absolutely critical to support our Iraqi allies and, specifically, the heroic operators of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service leading the advance. You can contribute and support these efforts, as well as the efforts of other partner forces fighting ISIS by giving here and here.

De Oppresso Liber,

Gabe

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