Less than an hour south of the most intense urban combat seen in all of the Global War on Terror is a squadron of American paratroopers, quietly working alongside the Iraqi Federal Police and offering advice, guidance, and when necessary, American firepower.

LTC John Hawbaker, commander for 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, part of 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division says his experience working with the Iraqi Federal Police is a dramatic departure from his last time in Iraq. “Unlike in the past where I’ve helped Iraqi forces, 12 years ago, it’s night and day. They are a professional service, they are in charge, they have their own systems, and own methods – we just assist where we can.” He says.

Now jointly stationed with an Iraqi Federal Police Corps-level headquarters at Hamam al-Alil, Hawbaker and his subordinate commanders closely monitor the brutal fighting occurring just north of their position, where the Iraqi Security Forces are locked in deadly street fighting. It has come to be known as the Battle of Mosul, a fight that has no modern equivalent in its combination of 21st century technology and bloody trench warfare.

A member of the Iraqi Federal Police. Image courtesy of the Concord Monitor

“In the Old City of Mosul, it’s a three-dimensional maze, there aren’t really streets. Its 2 kilometers by 2 kilometers of thousand-year-old buildings that have sunk down, with other buildings built on top of them, so you have these networks of tunnels and alleyways,” where the fighting is taking place.

“Even people that are born there can get lost.”

To further complicate the task of clearing Mosul block by block, something the Iraqis are doing on their own, civilians are packed tightly into practically every building and space. In an effort to use precision fires, largely provided by Hawbaker and his staff along with other coalition forces, the Iraqis also degrade their operational tempo; it’s a balancing act.

“If you go too fast, you increase the likelihood of civilian casualties, but if you go too slow, you increase the amount of human suffering by leaving them under the control of a barbaric organization like ISIS. It’s all about balancing the tempo to minimize suffering.”

Artillery crews from the 82nd Airborne provide indirect fire support at the Battle of Mosul. Image courtesy of the Voice of America

The Battle of Mosul has been slogging on for seven long months, due in large part to the dense urban terrain the Iraqi Security Forces have had to contend with. ISIS has intentionally used structures that Iraqi and U.S. forces know house civilians in a bid to incur collateral damage they know the American military cannot tolerate. However, some Iraqi military sources have said confidently that the operation could be wrapped up soon, even mere days from now. However soon the Iraqis are able to dislodge the Islamic State from their hideouts throughout Mosul, it will continue to be done more or less independently.