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Expeditionary Advising: Enabling Iraqi Operations from the Gates of Baghdad through Eastern Mosul

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Expeditionary Advising: Enabling Iraqi Operations from the Gates of Baghdad through Eastern Mosul

Ryan Wylie, Aaron Childers and Brett Sylvia

In May of 2016, Task Force (TF) Strike, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), assumed the responsibility of advising and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in their fight to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  At the time, the ISF were at a critical point of transition.  In the preceding 18 months, the ISF and Kurdish forces stopped the advance of ISIS and established a stable defensive line extending from Baghdad and Erbil, stretching north along the Tigris River past Bayji, and extending west along the Euphrates River past Ramadi and out to Al Assad Airbase.  To prepare and conduct operations to ultimately oust ISIS from Mosul, the ISF required capable advisors spread across their 14 Division formations.  As the only Brigade Combat Team (BCT) in Iraq, this task fell to TF Strike. As a result, TF Strike developed an approach to expeditionary advising focused on maintaining a persistent presence forward with Iraqi partners, leveraging precision capabilities, and building a robust advisor network.  Understanding the critical elements of this transformation can help inform current policy discussions on the future role of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, and is particularly relevant to future advising concepts, specifically the nascent U.S. Army Security Force Assistance Brigades. 

Just prior to TF Strike’s arrival, the ISF, led by the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Services (CTS), conducted limited offensive operations to retake the key population centers of Bayji and Ramadi. The liberation of Fallujah was on-going and would be complete in the ensuing two months.  Although ISIS retained control of key Lines of Communication (LOC) into Mosul and the surrounding areas, to include the outlying cites of Hawija and Shargot, the ISF had regained the initiative and, along with the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command (CJFLCC), were setting conditions for the Mosul Offensive.  In April of 2016, the ISF began Operation Valley Wolf, the first major offensive operation in Northern Iraq, intended to set conditions for the eventual liberation of Mosul by reclaiming key terrain along the Tigris River and establishing an operating base at Quyarrah-West Airbase (Q-West).       

Despite recent success in the Euphrates River Valley, there was little confidence Iraqi forces were up to the task of retaking Mosul. Aside from the CTS, the ISF force reconstituted after the invasion of ISIS remained largely untested in their ability to project combat power away from Baghdad and conduct sustained offensive operations. In the ongoing fight in Fallujah, the ISF demonstrated a limited ability to get multiple ISF components, specifically the CTS, Iraqi Army, and Federal Police, into the fight simultaneously and de-conflict their actions. Despite this improvement, synchronization of these different branches of the Iraqi security forces remained elusive. Ultimately, the Fallujah attack became a race to the town center between competing ISF forces. Additionally, there was a reluctance to dedicate forces towards Mosul as the ISF remained a Baghdad-based force with 60% of the Iraqi combat power and 100% of the logistics focused around the capital due to security concerns. In fact, throughout the summer of 2016, the Iraqi Prime Minister periodically recalled elements of the ISF to secure the city from Sadrist protestors and ISIS terrorist attacks.

Initially deployed as an 800 Soldier detachment, TF Strike was the third U.S. Army BCT to assume the advise and assist mission in Iraq since the ISIS incursion into the country in 2014.  Previous task forces largely focused on building partner capacity for future offensive operations through the training of division-level staffs and the training and equipping of Iraqi Army brigades at two major training sites around Baghdad. These efforts, along with the training efforts of several Coalition Special Operations Force (SOF) units, laid the groundwork for Iraqi forces to project combat power out of the Baghdad area west along the Euphrates and north along the Tigris River Valley. TF Strike’s advise and assist capability came from one of the Brigade’s organic battalion-level headquarters, with an additional maneuver battalion task force provided by Operation Spartan Shield forces in Kuwait. Initially, these battalion advise and assist teams were partnered primarily with Iraqi division-level headquarters, or similar operational commands. The remainder of the 2nd Brigade’s combat power was dedicated to CJFLCC-tasked security force operations or remained at the BCT’s home-station.   

When TF Strike assumed the mission in Iraq, the entirety of the unit, including advise and assist teams, was constrained to operating out of a few large Coalition bases. Advise and assist teams had limited ability to move by ground behind the Forward Line of Troops (FLOT) and no ability to move forward with Iraqi combat units. In the north, there was no authorized travel forward of the Kurdish FLOT to their partner force. Additionally, the task force only had a handful of tactical vehicles, with the majority of travel occurring in up-armored non-tactical vehicles. All travel to anywhere but a mature U.S. base required the highest approvals; only in the secure Baghdad “Green Zone” was there frequent travel from one location to another. For advise and assist teams who were fortunate to be co-located at their partner’s garrison headquarters (mostly in the Baghdad area) advising happened face to face during the lead up to operations. However, once operations began, contact was limited to phone calls and text messages via local cell phone or through key leader engagements, pending the Iraqi Army commander’s willingness to drive back to his U.S. advisors. In a few rare instances, advisors moved to their partner’s forward headquarters via helicopter for a short period of time, at most 48 hours, a technique known as “flying to advise.” Often, Iraqi partners decided to maintain a portion of their headquarters and staff with their U.S. advisors in order to retain the ability to view full motion video feeds from Coalition manned and unmanned aircraft. The fight in Fallujah progressed entirely in this manner, with advise and assist teams from both TF Strike and Coalition SOF located at their partner’s garrison headquarters, detached from Iraqi unit commanders who were forward at tactical command posts.  The exception to this model was Camp Swift, a newly established and austere base for TF Strike Headquarters and a battalion-level advise and assist team, co-located with the Iraqi Ninawa Operations Command (NOC) headquarters in Northern Iraq.  This small outpost was a precursor to the TF’s expeditionary advise and assist sites, and was the initial proof of principle of the importance of expeditionary advising. 

It very quickly became clear that this paradigm for conducting advise and assist, while extremely low risk to U.S. forces could not compel Iraqi success, given what the TF had assessed were new and emerging operational requirements. However, conducting advise and assist from a few mature bases, separated from partners, with no front-line presence resulted in access to only 50-60% of available ISF information and lost opportunities to affect ISF planning. It also made it hard to prove to the ISF that their advisors had “skin in the game” and subsequently gain their trust and build rapport. The ISF operated with extremely short planning horizons, and if advisors could not plan ahead of them, they could not effectively position assets to best enable ISF success. In order for ISF to conduct their most complicated and complex operations to date, including multiple, opposed wet gap crossings of the Tigris River and combined arms maneuver in the large, dense urban terrain of Mosul, TF Strike needed to transform advise and assist methods and practices

MG Najim Al Jaburi and three of his subordinate commanders move across the Tigris River on an Iraqi float bridge after a contested crossing against ISIS forces on 15 July 2016.  Photo Credit: Iraqi Army.

A defining moment of this transition to expeditionary advise and assist began on the morning of July 15th, 2016 as elements of the Iraqi Army 15th Division started construction on a float bridge across the Tigris River at a key piece of terrain called the “shark fin” 40 miles south of the city of Mosul. This would be the first contested wet gap crossing any Arab army had conducted since 1973. It would also be the first-time members of TF Strike, or any conventional unit, moved beyond the Kurdish FLOT. On the Eastern side of the river, one battalion advise and assist team and the TF headquarters advised three brigades and the NOC as they advanced from outside Erbil towards the Tigris River. The float bridge would connect two converging ISF axes of advance and set the stage for the build-up combat power to enable the eventual clearance of Mosul. As enemy artillery and sporadic small arms fire harassed boat crews, Iraqi Army engineers worked to emplace anchors on the east and west sides of the river and methodically build the bridge piece by piece. While the wet gap crossing went well initially, the ISF soon struggled to secure the anchors to the bridge and the bridge itself. Recognizing the significant risk to the mission if the bridge failed, TF Strike moved in to provide additional support to the river crossing. As the Iraqi Army completed the bridge, TF Strike artillery provided obscuration and precision fires, U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles (UAS) provided intelligence on ISIS positions, U.S. engineer advisors positioned 250 meters from the bridge coached Iraqi engineers, and a battalion advise and assist team accompanied the 15th Division leadership to an observation position, helping to synchronize the operation and steel the resolve of the Iraqi Army commander.  

The successful wet gap crossing of the Tigris River was an important milestone in the campaign to defeat ISIS in Iraq because it demonstrated the ISF’s commitment and ability to conduct offensive operations in the north and away from Baghdad. Equally important, the bridge crossing represented a significant transformation in how TF Strike would conduct advise and assist operations in Iraq; a transformation to expeditionary advising. Different than previous U.S. advising efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ISF were conducting large scale ground combat operations against, what was to the ISF, a near-peer threat in ISIS. The role of advisors in the bridge crossing stressed the criticality of having advisors forward with their ISF counter-parts and clearly demonstrated the need for expeditionary advising going forward into Mosul. 

Persistent Presence: The Key to Effective Expeditionary Advising

The most fundamental aspect of TF Strike’s transformation to expeditionary advising came from the realization that maintaining a persistent presence with the ISF forward in the fight was essential to progress towards Mosul. Maintaining a persistent presence helped close the information gap with partners and, as advisors gained better, more reliable information, they were able to better synchronize the efforts of both the ISF and the Coalition. Key to the advising construct was the ability to encourage their partners and attend nightly Commander’s Update Briefings. Being in the room next to ISF leadership with their subordinate commanders and staff, allowed advisors to stand around the map and discuss the next day’s or next week’s plan, as well as pick up the daily micro-adjustments to the plan. These nightly meetings were the setting of the key conversations, where ISF commanders delivered intent, and where cross boundary or cross-service coordination occurred. It was also in these meetings where U.S. advisors demonstrated with their presence the support of the coalition. The key question of many outside observers to the Mosul offensive was “do the Iraqis have the will to fight?” Two years prior, in the face of an ISIS onslaught, entire divisions of the ISF turned and ran. While impossible to quantify, there remains a very human dimension to modern ground combat, and the ability of an Iraqi commander to look a U.S. advisor in the eye and know he had the full support of the Coalition was crucial. This support was essential to resolve.  

Achieving a persistent presence with partners forward in the fight first required a continuous realignment of partner relationships with the ability to quickly embed advise and assist teams where needed as the fight towards Mosul progressed. As a part of Operation Valley Wolf the ISF seized Q-West airbase. This seizure set the stage for the rebuilding of the airfield, an essential Intermediate Staging Base (ISB) along the ground Line of Communication (LOC) from Baghdad to the west side of the Tigris just south of Mosul. Turning Q-West into an ISB took a significant amount of work and became its own advise and assist effort with TF Strike’s engineer battalion partnering with the ISF Q-West security force to establish the defense of the airfield. Once the base was secure the ISF began moving combat power into Q-West in preparation for the attack into Mosul, which included seven Iraqi Federal Police Divisions. TF Strike designated a battalion advise and assist team to partner with this element. They would be the first Coalition forces to partner with the Federal Police in the fight against ISIS. This partnership became crucial as the Federal Police would contribute more units than any other during the fight for Mosul. 

As the focus of operations shifted from Q-West to the east side of Mosul the TF’s artillery battalion and a battalion advise and assist team, along with multiple U.S. and Coalition SOF elements, began supporting Kurdish Forces as they advanced beyond the Kurdish FLOT and seized the terrain necessary to establish the Tactical Assembly Areas (TAAs) and Position Areas for Artillery (PAAs) required to begin the attack into Mosul. The ISF plan for the Mosul offensive included four primary axes of advance and a designated commander and ISF headquarters for each axis. In an effort to maximize ISF combat power, but also achieve maximum buy-in to the Mosul offensive, the Iraqi Combined Joint Operational Command (CJOC) plan spread responsibility for the various axes across the ISF components with the CTS and Federal Police each having their own axis and the Iraqi Army controlling two axes. TF Strike realigned battalion level advise and assist teams to partner with each of the axis commanders and headquarters. On 17 October, Operation Eagle Strike, the attack towards Mosul, began after three short weeks in the TAAs with this new alignment. These partnerships would become the TF’s decisive effort in the liberation of eastern Mosul where the ability to partner across ISF components helped to enable ISF unity of effort and even synchronization in the fight for Mosul.   

Achieving a persistent presence also required a progression in the TF’s advising structure from “Advise and Assist” to “Expeditionary Advise and Assist” and finally “Advise, Assist, Accompany, and Enable” (A3E). A3E teams were built around U.S. infantry company HQs.  These teams were designed to partner with ISF brigade size HQs just behind the FLOT. This reorganization resulted from a recognition of the need to partner at the lowest level where decisions would be made and where the ISF could best leverage and synchronize U.S. joint fires. Although achieving a persistent presence increased risk to advising teams it was clear that U.S. advisor presence forward with partners was critical to mission success. This lesson was painfully reinforced in December of 2016 in the early days of the Mosul offensive when a battalion of the Iraqi 9th Division achieved initial success seizing key intersections in the southeast of the city, but then became over-extended as they continued to advance seizing a critical ISIS strong point at the Al-Salam hospital. The next day ISIS launched a significant counter-attack isolating the ISF battalion and inflicting significant casualties to include the loss of an entire Iraqi armor battalion worth of vehicles. The ISF were forced to launch a rescue mission to break-out their surrounded element. Despite every asset in the Coalition available to support the ISF, the absence of forward advisors made providing that support impossible. This event became a turning point in understanding the important role A3E teams would play going forward and provided the impetus for advising further forward than ever before.

The transition to expeditionary advising and the ability to effectively mitigate risk to advise and assist teams, now significantly closer to the FLOT, required TF Strike to resource additional capabilities. First, securing A3E teams required additional security forces totaling three infantry companies worth of combat power. Additionally, TF Strike required the ability to move advising teams and security forces in up-armored tactical vehicles. The TF did not deploy with a tactical vehicle fleet and needed to draw these vehicles from Army Prepositioned Stocks in Kuwait. To ensure mobility along ground LOCs the TF developed two route clearance packages. To ensure the ability to quickly reinforce advise and assist teams, they established a ground and aerial Quick Reaction Force. The TF also contracted for and built austere forward patrol bases for advise and assist team survivability and logistical support. Importantly, providing these increased capabilities required an increase to the number of U.S. forces allowed in Iraq and a change to the approval authorities for movement in Northern Iraq.

Precision Capabilities: The Credibility to Advise Came from the Capability to Assist  

Precision munitions delivered by Coalition aircraft and artillery and observed by Coalition Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) were the key assistance the CJFLCC offered to the ISF and was critical to setting conditions for ISF maneuver. This assistance came in many different forms to include TF Strike’s battery of 155mm howitzer field artillery, Close Air Support (CAS) from U.S. Airforce, U.S. Navy and Coalition partner aircraft, Close Combat Attack (CCA) aircraft from U.S. Army AH-64 Apaches, and armed and unarmed theater level and organic UAS. These assets were employed against ISIS targets both in the deep fight and in the close fight, supporting ISF units in direct contact. In this process, TF Strike had the critical role of synchronizing and coordinating CJFLCC joint fires in support of ISF tactical units. This occurred first through a deliberate targeting process executed in conjunction with the two CJFLCC strike cells. Equally important was the persistent forward presence of U.S. advisors equipped with communications systems allowing them to view digital graphics and Full Motion Video (FMV) feeds. Being forward with ISF Division and Brigade commanders and staffs allowed them to work with their ISF partners to quickly pin-point ISIS positions and eliminate fratricide by confirming ISF front line positions prior to CJFLCC joint fire mission.      

The outcome of this assistance to the ISF resulted in staggering battle damage to ISIS forces in Northern Iraq to include the destruction of over 5,000 ISIS fighters, over 300 Vehicle Borne Explosive Devices (VBIEDs), and hundreds of ISIS technical vehicles, boats, and mortar tubes, rocket rails and artillery pieces. It was through this assistance that TF Strike advisors in many cases earned the ability to provide advice to their ISF partners and reserved them a spot at the table during the daily CUB. This was especially true of the TF’s A3E teams led by U.S. Army Captains but advising ISF General Officers. Full Motion Video (FMV) feeds brought into ISF HQs, and responsive CJFLCC joint fires opened the way to ISF transparency in their maneuver planning and their willingness to consider advice from their U.S. advisors, regardless of rank.

TF Strike’s credibility to advise came from their ability to assist.  The Battery of M777s from TF Strike fired over 6,205 rounds from May 2016-January 2017.  During this time, the battery conducted 16-gun raids and established five semi-permanent Position Areas for Artillery (PAAs).  Photo Credit: 1LT Daniel Johnson

TF Strike’s M777 Howitzer battery became a “Swiss Army knife” of capabilities for the CJFLCC and TF Strike in the advance towards Mosul.   This battery was the only all-weather surface-to-surface capability in Northern Iraq.  Moreover it was the first of its kind employed in support of ISF maneuver.  Previous artillery units had been employed for base defense and counter-fire around U.S. bases. TF Strike used their organic artillery to perform a number of functions to include supplying obscuration missions during the river crossing and during attacks against urban areas, degrading enemy mobility of vehicle-borne IEDs through the pinpoint destruction of crossings and cratering missions and illumination missions to both enable night operations, and guide fleeing Iraqi families back across the border. The battery was also a very agile capability and TF Strike would reposition the guns throughout the advance towards Mosul conducting 16 gun raids (one by air assault) and establishing five semi-permanent PAAs. The battery’s all weather capability proved equally important because of its ability to provide precision rounds during periods where CJFLCC aircraft were unable to fly; a time period often used by ISIS to conduct attacks. All told the battery conducted almost 1400 fire missions, firing 6200 rounds. Of those rounds fired, 1,250 were precision or near-precision munitions, the most fired by any U.S. Army unit in history.        

TF Strike’s radar and counter-fire capability also proved critical. The TF deployed with both Q50 and Q53 radars. Primarily these assets were used in a conventional counter-fire role. ISIS had the ability to mass effective fires using their own indirect fire systems, many times from up to eight or more locations firing within a minute of each other.  Based on target acquisitions, the TF’s radar were able to hunt ISIS indirect fire systems. TF Strike would then neutralize these systems through their deliberate targeting process. The radars also served as “observers” for ISF indirect fire systems. Through radar acquisitions, US advisors could give accurate adjustments to ISF Artillery while they fired in support of their own maneuver.

Robust Advisor Network: Enabling Effective ISF Decision Making

A critical challenge for TF Strike was getting inside their ISF partners’ decision cycles so that they could provide timely and worthwhile advice and intelligence, and effectively inform Iraqi commanders’ decisions so they could, in turn, stay inside the ISIS decision cycle. As previously discussed, achieving a persistent presence with their partners forward in the fight was critical to solving this problem. Equally important was building a robust advisor network throughout the TF, and linked in with adjacent and higher headquarter advising units. As the ISF pressed the fight in Mosul the situation on the ground became more fluid and fast paced. TF Strike needed the ability to not only mirror their ISF partners reporting and battle tracking, but “see” their partners better than they saw themselves to anticipate and shape future actions. This was in part the case because the ISF were more agile than U.S. Forces were in terms of their ability to move their headquarters, reposition forces, and change course. Due to logistical constraints and limited protection capabilities, TF Strike’s lead time for repositioning advise and assist teams was significantly longer. Maintaining a persistent presence meant staying one step ahead of the ISF to compensate for the slower contracting and logistical requirements. For this reason and others, the TF required a network that linked dispersed advise and assist teams and allowed for the fast, flat, and accurate reporting and sharing of information. It was through the shared understanding provided by the network that advise and assist teams could provide valuable insights and information to their ISF partners that ultimately shaped their decision making.   

COL Brett Sylvia discusses the on-going Mosul offensive inside the Joint Operations Center that the brigade shared with Iraqi Forces.  Photo Credit: MAJ Ireka Sanders

The key to achieving shared understanding across the advising network was the development of a Common Operating Picture (COP) that the TF could share with its ISF and Coalition partners which included near real time information on ISF and ISIS unit dispositions. The U.S. Army’s current programs of record for maintaining and sharing a digital COP to include Command Post of the Future (CPOF) and Agile Client were ineffective tools because of their classification level and the amount of band width required to operate these systems. Instead TF Strike relied on Google map imagery and map images in power point to share the COP. Importantly it required a full brigade level current operations staff to maintain the COP across all War Fighting Functions and perform the required analysis to support effective decision making. This was especially the case with the intelligence, fires and maneuver war-fighting functions which each performed the same functions as if the TF itself was in the fight. Also critical to maintaining an accurate COP was timely and accurate reporting on ISF front line positions and unit movement.  This took near constant effort from battalion and company advise and assist teams to keep track of their partnered units. The TF experimented with several technological solutions for digitally tracking ISF unit locations with some effectiveness. However, digital battle tracking of host nation forces remains a technology gap for advising units.             

The backbone of TF Strike’s advisor network was expeditionary communication systems that provided a classified communications capability to the forward edge of the FLOT. As the TF transitioned to expeditionary advising in the run up to the Mosul offensive, acquiring the right systems was a major undertaking. With advise and assist teams dispersed over hundreds of miles across Northern Iraq, the TF needed the ability to communicate beyond line of site using both digital and analog systems. Additionally, maintaining consistent and redundant communications with advise and assist teams operating outside of mature U.S. bases was a critical risk mitigation measure TF Strike implemented with the transition to expeditionary advising. Although the TF deployed with the U.S. Army’s newest communication system, Capability Set 15, it required augmentation to provide sufficient communication capabilities across its footprint. Many of the expeditionary communication system the TF needed they had turned in as a part of latest fielding. Acquiring the right systems was not an easy task and required assembling legacy systems from all over the theater.  Most notably absent were small, portable secret communications systems called SIPR-NIPR Access Portal (SNAP) terminals. These terminals provided digital connectivity over voice and e-mail down to the company headquarters and advise and assist team level. The TF also fielded a number of systems similar to SNAP through the Rapid Equipment Fielding process, these included GATR Ball and Tampa Microwaves systems.

Conclusion

When TF Strike assumed responsibility for advising and assisting the ISF in the late spring of 2016, they arrived at a point of transition, and TF Strike recognized that ISF success in the Mosul offensive would require a shift to expeditionary advising. As a result, TF Strike developed an approach to expeditionary advising that relied on three key elements. First, TF Strike recognized the need to maintain a persistent forward presence through expeditionary teams. Second, coordinated and synchronized precision fires provided the key assistance the ISF needed to defeat ISIS. Lastly, in order to help ISF commanders make timely and accurate decisions, TF Strike required an advising network that provided fast, flat, and accurate reporting on both the ISF and ISIS. Together, these efforts represent a construct that was not only instrumental to success in Northern Iraq, but is applicable to all advising efforts.

Only 23% of TF Strike conducted Advise and Assist Operations, with 27% of TF Strike Soldiers dedicated to security, guarding coalition bases, outposts, and forward with Iraqi troops.  17% acted as enablers as Artillery and UAS support.  The 9% of reaction forces supplied a dedicated ground and aerial reaction force.  Graphic by CPT Josh Sandhaus

As the US Army considers the construct of newly formed Security Force Assistance Brigades, two points are worth consideration. First, the ISF’s success against ISIS in Mosul demonstrates that a relatively small team of U.S. advisors can achieve significant operational results by connecting a partnered force to Coalition joint fires and influencing sound decision making. Second, TF Strike found that effective advise and assist operations required an extensive support structure to sustain, move, and protect advise and assist teams. The TF dedicated over 70% of its force structure to advise and assist support and enabling tasks, with more forces dedicated to securing advisors than actually advising. These forces did not come ad hoc but were instead part of their organic unit and they had trained together through a training center rotation before deployment. 

Equally important, the entirety of the TF staff and key enabler companies, to include the Military Intelligence Company (MICO) and the Signal Company, were required to meet the BCT’s intelligence, fires and mission command requirements. The complexity and required synchronization of large combat operations does not change simply because US Soldiers are not conducting the operations; the capabilities of the staff must remain similar to that of a traditional BCT to effectively support advisors. This extends across every warfighting function, especially in intelligence and fires. The brigade and battalion staffs in Task Force Strike conducted a Decisive Action rotation at Fort Polk and were well trained in Combined Arms Maneuver; this expertise paid important dividends as the ISF planned and executed operations to cross the Tigris and clear Mosul.

There is no perfect way to reorganize for advising, but the lessons utilized by TF Strike are undeniably pertinent as the Army considers the organization and employment of Security Force Assistance Brigades. By changing the nature of the advise and assist relationship, TF Strike helped the Iraqis liberate the Tigris river valley south of Mosul, reclaim the Q-West Airbase, isolate, and subsequently clear Eastern Mosul by early 2017. While previous Coalition advising efforts had focused on building partner capacity and limited combat advising from mature joint bases, TF Strike recognized that ISF success in the Mosul offensive would require a transition to expeditionary advising and assisting across every warfighting function. Any unit conducting advise and assist operations must be capable of maintaining and sustaining a persistence presence with their counterparts. Advisors must enable success, build relationships, and if necessary steel their partners’ resolve. For advisors, the ability to advise is reliant on their ability to assist, being every bit as lethal in supporting their partners as they would be with US troops. Advisor networks helped the TF see themselves, their Iraqi partners and the enemy, truly flattening the battlefield. The success of advisors can only be measured by the gains of those they advise, and in the case of the ISF outside Mosul, TF Strike provided them momentum they required to defeat ISIS in Mosul.

The views expressed here are the authors alone and do not reflect those of the US Army or the Department of Defense.

About the Author(s)

Colonel Brett Sylvia holds a B.S. from the United States Military Academy, a M.S. from Missouri S&T, and a MMAS from the School of Advanced Military Studies. In Iraq he served as the Commander for 2d Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (AASLT) and TF STRIKE. He is currently serving as the Chief of Staff for the 101st Airborne Division (AASLT).

Major Aaron Childers holds a B.A. from the Virginia Military Institute and a M.A. from the Naval War College.  While in Iraq he served as the Brigade Operations Officer for 2d Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (AASLT) and TF STRIKE.  He is currently serving in the Joint Staff J5, Transregional Threats Coordination Cell.

Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Wylie holds a B.S. from the United States Military Academy and a M.A. from the Naval Post Graduate School.  In Iraq he served as the Battalion Commander for the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment and as the senior advisor to the Baghdad Operations Command.  He is currently serving as a Senior Trainer at the Joint Multi-national Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany.