On the front lines, the jagged teeth of a young soldier’s bulldozer mark the beginning of Iraq’s territory and the end of the Islamic State’s.

Pvt. Mohammed Ali al-Shwele is 19, weathered and lean. He has been shot at, rocketed and mortared while trying to protect the troops behind him. Using his cellphone, he captured one particularly harrowing moment, when a car bomb engulfed his armored behemoth in flames and shrapnel. The video went viral.

His minor celebrity status aside, Shwele and the cadre of bulldozer drivers like him are responsible for moving the war forward one block at a time. Iraqi officers won’t start an offensive without them, and if a bulldozer is knocked out with no replacement, the day’s operation is over.

“There can be no liberation without the bulldozer,” Shwele said.

Bulldozers were essential to Iraqi forces as they pushed through Ramadi, Fallujah and eastern Mosul. Unlike other breaching equipment, such as specialized explosives or specifically outfitted tanks, the bulldozers can clear obstacles while creating ad hoc defenses.

In western Mosul, with its crowded neighborhoods and increasingly complex ring of Islamic State defensive positions, the machines have become more crucial — and more of a target — than ever.


Read the whole story from The Washington Post.