The U.S. Army News Service reported that the 101st brigade that backed Iraqi forces in ridding the country of the ISIS caliphate returned from after nine-month deployment.
With about 2,000 Soldiers deployed across northern Iraq and in parts of Syria, the 101st Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team comprised most of Task Force Iraq, overseeing coalition support to Iraqi forces.
The brigade’s nine-month deployment concluded last month. During it, the brigade had three major functions: intelligence and strike, advising and enabling the Iraqi Army, and training at the operational level.
One of its battalions was also attached to the U.S. Special Operations Command to assist in missions within Syria.
“The key through all of this has been to maintain pressure on ISIS,” the commander, Col. Derek Thomson, told media Wednesday during an Army Current Operations Engagement Tour at the Pentagon.
The Iraqi Army, he said, has been under ongoing enemy contact for the past few years since ISIS invaded and established a so-called caliphate in the region.
“Like any army in a rebuilding phase, it continues to improve,” he said. “They have a tough task in front of them. They have been in contact throughout.”
In March, U.S. military leaders announced the defeat of the physical caliphate of ISIS. Its founder and leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was also killed in a U.S.-led raid on Saturday.
But the threat is not over, Thomson said.
“While significantly degraded, ISIS has remained an ideologically-driven organization of fighters and supporters who remain committed to the cause,” he said.
Task Force Iraq’s primary mission, he said, was to support the Iraqi Security Forces to ensure a lasting defeat of ISIS. That mission is now in the hands of 25th Infantry Division’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
In the latest deployment, the task force conducted an array of targeting activities to locate ISIS fighters and helped the Iraqi military build operational plans to defeat them. In addition to coalition airstrikes, U.S. Soldiers also fired artillery at enemy positions in support of Iraqi ground maneuver, he said.
“This activity was principally driven by our advisory teams located in the regional commands,” the colonel said. “And it involved a great deal of strategic leadership by our battalion command teams as they interacted with their senior Iraqi partners to develop a common picture of the enemy and to enable Iraqi Army action against them.”
Soldiers also instructed Iraqi troops on specific tasks to expand their operational reach. Training included air assault exercises on their helicopters as well as medical training, marksmanship and teaching them what types of sensitive material to gather from enemy sites for intelligence efforts.
The task force even assisted within the information domain by helping the Iraqi Army amplify its success over ISIS by getting the word out to the Iraqi people, he added.
Some of the challenges faced by U.S. Soldiers during the deployment stemmed from the vast area they had to cover that included almost half of Iraq from Baghdad to Mosul.
“We had quite of bit of ground to cover,” Thomson said. “But I think that’s also in our strength. It demonstrated a degree of agility. We did not need the larger footprint to accomplish this mission.”
On the sustainment side, 1st Lt. Robert MacKinnon, a logistics officer with the brigade, said it was difficult at times to distribute supplies to far-flung sites.
“I will say it was a great learning opportunity for me,” he said. “It gave me invaluable experience as a logistics officer that you just can’t replicate at home station.”
Before the deployment, the brigade’s Soldiers conducted a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center on Fort Polk, Louisiana, to hone their warfighter skills. They then received security force assistance training to help in their advising mission.
Both types of training formed the “sweet spot” for being ready to support the Iraqi Army, the colonel said.
“Being well rounded in those skills allowed us to be better advisors,” he said.