Slaying Daesh: An Interview with an American Advisor in Iraq

08Jun16

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Slaying Daesh: An Interview with an American Advisor in Iraq

Chris Hernandez
I once read a novel about a Vietnam veteran’s life after homecoming. In one scene he’s alone in a bar in April 1975, transfixed to a TV, drinking away anger as he watches the last helicopter lift off the roof of the American embassy in Saigon. Later I told a fellow Iraq veteran friend that I was pretty sure I’d be in a bar someday, drowning my sorrows in iced tea and watching the last helicopter abandon the American embassy in Baghdad.

About two years later, ISIS hit Iraq. Mosul fell after a not-even-halfhearted defense. The Iraqi Army fled Fallujah without a fight. Baghdad came under threat, and Iraqi troops seemed incapable of defending it. One day as I read yet another report of the Iraqi Army retreating in disarray, my Iraq veteran friend sent a text.

“You picked out a bar yet?”

The Iraqi Army – now there’s a term that’s struck terror into the heart of many an American fighting man. Not in 1991 when we stomped it into defeat during Desert Storm, nor in 2003 when we used it as a speedbump on the road to Baghdad; no, the terror came later, when we tried to fight alongside it. I personally had little direct interaction with the IA, but many who did came home full of misgivings, frustration, and visions of impending collapse. When ISIS swept much of the IA aside with barely a fight, many of us Iraq vets felt our “US embassy in Saigon” moment was at hand.

Helmets abandoned by IA troops fleeing ISIS

Helmets abandoned by IA troops fleeing ISIS

Yet, two years into the fight against ISIS, the Iraqi Army seems to have at least improved. It stopped the ISIS advance outside Baghdad (with our help), took back areas on the outskirts of Mosul, took Hit, took Ramadi and parts of western Fallujah, and is preparing to retake the rest of it. Recently we’ve seen video of an IA helicopter door gunner calmly smoking a fleeing ISIS vehicle, read reports of a lone IA Abrams tank nicknamed “The Beast” whacking ISIS all over Hit, and seen video of another IA Abrams hitting a moving VBIED (car bomb) at long range.

As a former tanker, the stories about IA tanks really got my attention. And while I was encouraged, I also cringed. Is the Iraqi Army really capable of using Abrams tanks? I wondered. And if they are, isn’t that knowledge and capability bound to reach ISIS?

So I was pretty happy when I recently met a US Marine Corps advisor to an Iraqi armored division. This officer deployed twice to Iraq as a tanker, and made trips to Afghanistan to see how tanks were being employed there. Policy prevents me from identifying him, so I’ll call him Brad.

Why did I choose "Brad" as a pseudonym? No reason, just a random name.

Why did I choose “Brad” as a pseudonym? No reason, just a random name.

Brad and I spoke by phone for over an hour. He’s assigned to a base in Anbar province that I used to run convoys to back in 05, and the troops he advises are in the thick of the fight against ISIS. He’s got direct visibility on the capabilities of today’s Iraqi Army, and had direct visibility on the IA during Operation Iraqi Freedom. If we want to know the truth about today’s Iraqi Army and especially their tankers, he’s a good person to ask.

My first question for Brad was whether or not he was going with the Iraqis on missions. In Iraq I was a TWAT (Tanker Without A Tank) on a convoy escort team, and never fought in a beloved Abrams. In Afghanistan I was around French light tanks in firefights, and had one fire its main gun close enough to rock my Humvee, but never connived my way into one for a mission. Some Americans are outside the wire in the ISIS fight, but what about Brad and other tankers?

“We don’t accompany the Iraqis. Mostly, they’re doing it, they don’t need us,” Brad said. “It’s like the old parable, ‘what you expect of people they tend to deliver’. If we don’t accompany them, the Iraqi Army realizes they need to do it on their own. The only thing we really have a problem with is that they move at their speed, and we want them to move faster. But when it comes to the rubber really meeting the road…

“I was part of an operation earlier this month. They were clearing a road, and it was heavily defended by Daesh. They ran into several problems, they lost one of their senior leaders, they had issues where certain units weren’t performing as well as others. But they adjusted their scheme of maneuver on the fly, they provided relatively accurate reporting, they were relatively responsive to our requests for information while they were in the middle of the fight. Their problems now lie in basic soldierly proficiency. They’re in the war now, and they don’t have time to focus on just basic soldiering. They have to keep everybody on the line, they have to keep everybody attacking.”

Reuters photo of Iraqi SF fighting ISIS in Ramadi.

Reuters photo of Iraqi SF fighting ISIS in Ramadi.

Basic proficiency is a big deal though, especially considering all the complex tasks that go into running a tank. So where are they as far as being able to perform basic tanker tasks? 

“I mean, are they US Marines or American Army? No. Those are the two finest fighting forces in the world. But they adapt to changing tactical situations, they continue to press despite casualties and IEDs. Are they incredibly proficient at accurate fires and all those thing? Well, they’ve got some work to do in that area. But when it comes to behaving like a professional army, they’re making great strides every day, actually. It takes decades to produce the kind of culture and institutional knowledge the US Army and Marine Corps have with their tanks. It takes going to gunnery twice a year, year after year, it takes officers who have been to multiple gunneries, the Master Gunner program, you know, all those things they just don’t have time to do. They are at just a basic level of proficiency. I think the biggest thing to say about this is…they’re not us, but they’re resilient, and they don’t give up. The fighting spirit’s really there.”

Read the rest at http://www.breachbangclear.com/slaying-daesh-in…or-iraqi-tankers/

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Chris Hernandez is a 22 year police officer, former Marine and recently retired National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and Iron Mike magazine and has published three military fiction novels, Proof of Our ResolveLine in the Valley and Safe From the War through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at chris_hernandez_author@yahoo.com or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).

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4 Responses to “Slaying Daesh: An Interview with an American Advisor in Iraq”

  1. 1 Susan

    Oh my god! Is it possible? According to ‘Brad’ by George the IA is getting it! At least the armor guys he is advising (I almost said supervising – sorry,I’m a osych professional and we come at this a little more directly). Perhaps with all the squeezing going on, the latest iteration of megalomaniacs will increasingly be twisted into a sad little squeaky toy version of their former selves.
    I want to add my sincerest condolences on your lack of Time In Tank. I can only feel your pain from afar. I dearly love the Abrams, will never probably even wrap my arms around one to profess my undying devotion let alone -GASP!- ride in one. At least you were in the same fraternity. I hear that there is a recreational park in MN where one can pay to drive humongous motorized somethings and wreak destruction at will. Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus and he drives a freaking TANK!!! Sorry. Got a little crazy there. Bye.

    • Susan,

      Just to make sure I didn’t misunderstand you…you’re a female psych professional, and love tanks?

      Where have you been all my life?

  2. 3 Overload in CO

    Bad link to the rest of the article.


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