In retrospect, one of the big take-aways from the fight against ISIS is the need to keep up some kind of continuous engagement with indigenous forces, rather than just wash our hands and walk away from the situation. The Obama administration, having seen the invasion of Iraq as a profound mistake, made a campaign promise to get America out of the country. With a policy decision made, the military had to pull up stakes and literally deconstruct both the physical infrastructure they had built, as well the intelligence networks that had been stood up at great expense. A few years later, ISIS rolled into Iraq and we had to start all over again.
This isn’t to say that we should have mass troop formations in Iraq forever, none of us want to engage in costly, fruitless endeavors, that are perhaps not unjustly viewed as neo-colonialism by the local population. That said, small numbers of Special Forces trainers and advisors can be kept in theater to maintain continuous engagement, help local military units continue to evolve, and provide important situational awareness for the Pentagon and policy makers in DC.
This was why I was happy to hear from one of the Iraqi SWAT team members that I helped train nearly a decade ago. This gent was the best shot in the platoon I trained, and after America left Iraq and his city was occupied by ISIS, he continued to fight, crawling around the brush in a ghillie suit and sneaking through urban rubble, killing ISIS terrorists one by one with precision sniper fire. The other day he let me know that he was now being trained by Italian instructors in Baghdad.
The unit known as ERD (Emergency Response Division) is an Iraqi Special Forces unit, and members of the international coalition are helping to run them through a months long training exercise, an exercise designed in part to ensure that a jihadi group like ISIS can never sweep across Iraq again. As a recent Rudaw article noted, “One of the factors which led to the rise of ISIS in Iraq was a lack of Iraqi Security Forces capable of mobilizing to stop the extremists pouring over the Syrian border in 2014. A few US-trained units like the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Units (ICTS) were effective against the extremists but small in number.”
NEWSREP reached out to a member of the international coalition involved in training the ERD in Baghdad, who reported that they have been at it for four years and have found it to be a positive experience for the Iraqis as well as their own unit.