With ISIS pushed out of Mosul, the next phase in the campaign is to rid the terrorist organization from the nearby city of Tal Afar. Located smack dab between Mosul and Sinjar, Tal Afar is a medium-sized city inhabited by both Sunni and Shia but dominated by the Turkmen ethnic group rather than Arabs. As ISIS swept across Iraq and Syria, Sinjar, Tal Afar, and Mosul fell in sequence in 2014.
I was one of the US Special Operations soldiers who saw action in Tal Afar, first with the Ranger Regiment in 2005 and then as a Green Beret in 2009. In ’05, the insurgency was in full swing and Tal Afar was known to belong to the enemy. We would roll into the city at night in our Strykers and conduct direct action missions to capture/kill high value targets. Every time we went into the city we got into firefights with the enemy. When I returned in 2009, I found a very different situation. Iraqi and coalition forces had pacified the city and Tal Afar was now experiencing a period of peace. Previous Special Forces ODA’s had set up and established Tal Afar Iraqi SWAT. When my ODA arrived we followed up on their hard work, training and developing ISWAT as well as accompanying them on direct action operations in Tal Afar, Mosul, and the surrounding areas.
When ISIS came to town, ISWAT did what they could, but the Iraqi government is hopelessly incompetent and corrupt. Without bullets, gasoline, water, and food, soldiers are not going to be able to fight for long, no matter how motivated or elite they are. That the government of Iraq folded so easily to a rag-tag group like ISIS is a critical indictment of their politicians, bureaucracy, and military leaders. Tal Afar was captured by the enemy and Tal Afar ISWAT was turned into refugees. Many of the ISWAT members I trained fought for a long time at the Baji oilfields. The ISWAT sniper I trained was down in Anbar wearing a ghillie suit and slaying terrorists. More recently, Tal Afar SWAT was fighting ISIS in Mosul. Now the time has arrived for them to return home.
According to Iraqi security forces, US Special Forces and their host-nation counter-parts have begun building a new forward operating base near Tal Afar to support the offensive. The report makes mention of clearing an airfield which is most likely the airfield which housed was called FOB Sykes before America withdrew from Iraq. The airfield is a critical piece of infrastructure for logistical reasons.
What happens next is difficult to say, but I know quite a few Turkmen who can’t wait to sink their teeth into ISIS in their own backyard.
Lead photo courtesy of Jack Murphy. Tal Afar ISWAT after a training exercise.