On Dec. 30, 2016, I arrived in Mosul, Iraq and reunited with soldiers of the Iraqi Special Forces I had not seen in nearly nine years. I returned as a retired soldier and aspiring war correspondent — while they have not stopped fighting the enemies of their country since I left.
After the ride with Sgt. Maj. Abdulwahab from Erbil, which included a stop for lunch at his uncle’s house and Friday prayers, I arrived at the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service observation post on the eastern edge of Mosul. Upstairs I waited for Brig. Gen. Haider Al-Obeidi, my brother-in-arms from 2008 when I served as his adviser. Now my friend is a one-star general and the ground force commander for the push to clear Mosul from ISIS occupation.
With Haider was Col. Arkan, recently profiled in BuzzFeed as the key link between Iraqi forces on the ground and the coalition air power supporting them. Arkan was the first Iraqi since the 2003 invasion to graduate U. S. Army Ranger School. He is also Iraq’s leading air controller, and literally “calls the shots” when his guys need bombs on ISIS targets. He speaks perfect vernacular American English.
I also met Haider’s two bosses — ICTS generals well-known to anyone following their fight against ISIS. I thanked the generals for allowing me to join their unit. Like generals in any army, they were not overly excited to have a foreign journalist embedded with them at the height of their biggest battle to date. I emphasized I was there to work on my graduate thesis for my Master’s in Journalism, and to interview their soldiers from my perspective as former soldier.