Iraqi army learns Ramadi's lessons in U.S.-led coalition training
The Iraqi army is being trained and equipped to retake Mosul from ISIS
U.S.-led coalition forces training Iraqi soldiers to fight Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are applying lessons from last month's recapture of Ramadi to prepare the army to retake the northern city of Mosul later this year.
Iraq's elite counter-terrorism forces pushed the insurgents out of most of Ramadi, in the Euphrates river valley west of the capital, after a six-month siege in which roadside bombs laid as densely as conventional minefields slowed the military's advance to a crawl.
Now the army's 72nd infantry brigade is receiving training in combined arms breaching - a mixture of tactics used to overcome such obstacles - as part of a 10-week course at Besmaya, a base south of Baghdad.
That will make it the army's best-trained brigade and equip it for a key role in the government's promised offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, from ISIS.
If successful, that would mark the biggest military blow against the jihadists since they seized large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and declared an Islamic caliphate, where they have carried out mass rape, beheadings and slaughter.
The 72nd will set the standard to which others should be equipped, said U.S. Army Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, the Baghdad-based head of the anti-ISIS coalition.
"One hundred percent this (training) is based on the lessons that we learned watching the challenges in Ramadi and Tikrit and Sinjar and Baiji where the enemy had obstacle belts," MacFarland told reporters this week, referring to cities retaken from ISIS in recent months.
"It's about breaching obstacles just like we do in conventional manoeuvres," he said during a visit to observe a live-fire exercise at Besmaya, where most of the coalition trainers are from Spain and Portugal.
Soldiers advancing across the training site in armoured vehicles stopped behind an earthen embankment and launched a line of explosive charges to clear bombs planted on the other side. After a large blast sent up a dark plume of smoke, they proceeded with a bulldozer to clear remaining obstacles.
Using a mix of machine guns and snipers, the forces attacked a simulated enemy before advancing into an urban combat scenario as Iraqi and coalition commanders watched from observation platforms.
They used equipment and arms drawn from a $1.6 billion train-and-equip fund that Washington began delivering last summer.
Despite billions of dollars in U.S. aid since the 2003 invasion that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and disbanded his army, Iraq's military collapsed eighteen months ago in the face of ISIS's lighting advance across Iraq's north and west.
The government has since relied heavily on Iranian-backed Shiite militias, a small group of elite commandos and support from coalition air strikes to secure Baghdad and southern Shi'ite shrines and then push the insurgents out of key cities like Tikrit and Ramadi.
Hoping to overcome years of corruption and sectarianism that promoted unqualified officers and wore down the army's ranks, the coalition has trained thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police.
"We start almost from scratch with the basic individual skills: how to move, how to protect, how to shoot," said Spanish Army Lieutenant Colonel Pedro Erice, a senior trainer at Besmaya. "The period of time is short. You can't try to reach big objectives."
Washington last week said coalition countries needed to step up their contributions, including police and military trainers.
But with its ranks worn down by fighting and the demands of a fierce existential war showing no signs of relenting, there are concerns that Iraq's army cannot fit in as much training as it needs.
"We've got plenty of trainers here. We could do plenty of training. But of course the Iraqis have still got to fight a war and maintain security, particularly in places like Baghdad," said British Army Brigadier General James Learmont, deputy head of the coalition's land component.
"It's always a fine balance between what we can actually get into the training sites and obviously what they need to fight the war."
Learmont said he also expected battlefield constraints would make it hard for the brigades to periodically refresh their training.
It was not immediately clear where the 72nd Brigade will deploy when its course ends, but banners affixed to vehicles read "Nineveh liberation operations command", referring to the province where Mosul is located.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has vowed to retake Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control, later this year. Falluja, a militant stronghold about 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad, could be the next target before that.
"They've finished with us and they've gone straight into the fight in Ramadi," Learmont said of previous training classes. "They will finish here and they'll go into the frontlines. One could classify that as on-the-job training."
Asked how well the training was preparing the Iraqis, he said they had acquired "lifesaving skills that will help them to defeat Daesh (ISIS) but also actually to stay alive themselves".
"The proof will be in the pudding," he added. "Once they're out on the ground we'll see how they do."
Iraq’s military is still struggling despite U.S. trainingU.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has announced that he wants the coalition to greatly increase the number of trainers in Iraq Features
U.S. asks NATO for spy planes in fight against ISISUnlike its members who are taking part in a U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, NATO is not directly involved in combating militants in Syria and Iraq Middle East
Iraq faces one-off clash for Olympics place, but the future is brightThe Iraqis will have one final chance to return to the Olympic Football Tournament for the first time since 2004 Sports
U.S.: Turkey can do more to fight ISISThe defeat of ISIS 'needs to occur, it will occur … first and foremost in Syria and Iraq' Middle East
Turkish PM Davutoglu says Turkey respects Iraq's territorial integrityTurkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said only the legitimate Syrian opposition should be involved with negotiations over Syria News
Biden and Erdogan aim to ramp up ISIS fightThe White House said they also talked about the ‘importance of de-escalating recent tensions between Turkey and Iraq' Middle East
U.S.-led coalition conducts 18 strikes against ISISThree strikes were conducted in three cities in Syria and six cities in Iraq News
U.S. now requires visas for travelers if they visited some Mideast statesU.S. announces plan for new visa rules for some Europeans and other travelers if they visited Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan Features
1800GMT: Are the Kurds displacing Arabs in Iraq and Syria?News Bulletins
Biden, Iraq’s Abadi discuss Turkish troop issueU.S. Vice President and Iraqi Prime Minister discussed the urgency of international support to stabilize Ramadi, which was recently retook from ISIS Middle East
Oldest Christian monastery in Iraq razedSt. Elijah’s Monastery stood as a place of worship for 1,400 years, including most recently for U.S. troops Middle East
‘Hundreds’ of army trainers needed for Mosul recaptureMosul fell to ISIS fighters in June 2014 as they overran vast regions in northern and north-central Iraq, as well as in Syria Middle East
Iraq oil sales at record, unaffected by Iran's return to marketIraq’s plan to increase oil output this year will go ahead Energy
Hollande says accelerating Iraq, Syria air strikesFrench President Francois Hollande said Thursday that a coalition waging a bombing campaign against ISIS Middle East
Nearly 19,000 killed in Iraq in under 2 years: U.N.A U.N. report says at least 18,802 civilians in Iraq were killed and another 36,245 wounded between Jan. 1, 2014 and Oct. 31, 2015 Middle East
Last Hour: Sunnis consider demanding international intervention in IraqNews Bulletins
How can we address the Iranian project in Iraq?Point Of Order
Kurds destroyed ‘thousands’ of Arab homes in IraqAmnesty International says the destruction took place after Kurdish forces captured areas in Iraq from ISIS militants Middle East
Americans missing in Iraq kidnapped by Iran-backed militiaUnknown gunmen seized the three on Friday from a private residence in the southeastern Dora district of Baghdad Middle East
Iraq to back Prince Ali in FIFA electionAFC President Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa is expected to win the bulk of support among the 46 members Sports