As U.S.-trained Iraqi forces prepare for a major offensive against Islamic State (ISIL) militants holding Mosul, the international coalition is preparing a “menu” of offensive and defensive capabilities that will support their drive and help them hold recaptured territory.
Maj. Gen. Doug Chalmers, deputy commander for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, spoke with reporters on March 31 by teleconference from Baghdad. For the past six months Chalmers, who is a member of the U.K. army, has been in charge of manning and equipping Iraqi forces.
In that capacity, he and his co-deputy commander have worked to provide the training, weapons and gear Iraqi forces need to continue to roll back ISIS gains in that country. Coalition and Iraqi forces are taking lessons from the successful capture of Ramadi earlier in 2016 and applying them to Mosul, which is a much larger, more heavily defended target.
Coalition military leaders have said that they expect more of the type of support given Iraqi forces during the Ramadi offensive, including artillery, command-and-control and intelligence support. Also on the menu are AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and an influx of anti-tank guided missiles, Chalmers said.
“We have been working very much with our Iraqi partners as they have expanded their operations and gone into the counterattack, and we’ve effectively, through that planning, worked at what could be described as a menu of capabilities to continue to enable or enhance them as their operations have expanded,” Chalmers said.
The menu includes artillery and other indirect fire support provided by U.S. Marines and other coalition forces, much as was done during the recapture of Ramadi earlier in 2016. Marines on the ground in Iraq have suffered casualties at the hands of ISIS and have responded to attacks with self-defense fire and artillery in support of Iraqi counterattacks, Chalmers said. Apaches have been mentioned by officials as senior as Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and though the helicopters have not been committed to battle in Iraq, Chalmers said they were an item that could be offered in support of Iraqi forces.
“As they have been advancing, you’ll be aware that those U.S. Marines with those guns have been supporting our Iraqi partners,” he said. “I’m doing more of that, and we’ve doing a similar type of activity down in Anbar with Army artillery units as well in support of our Iraqi partners there. … Expanding that sort of capability is on the menu, but I’m not sure exactly who it might provide — it may even be other coalition members as well.”
About $1.6 billion has been spent so far through the Iraqi train-and-equip fund, Chalmers said. The money has paid for a mountain of equipment for Iraqi military units, training and to pay for U.S. personnel employed as trainers for both the Iraqi army and national police force. However, consumption of equipment and ammunition routinely outpaces funding, Chalmers said.
“We’ve used that fund, particularly focused on the counter attack brigades to sort of equip them and train them, and re-equip them to move forward,” he said. “Sustainment, either through spare parts or ammunition, to sustain those units in what is quite high-intensity fighting at the moment, therefore is outstripping what is there routinely budgeted forecast.”
The coalition has had to replace vehicles damaged in battle by ISIS fighters, especially Humvees that have had their radiators shot out, as well as fund sustainment of equipment, spare parts and ammunition resupply, he said.
Donations of equipment, to include AK-47 rifles and ammunition, from nations other than the United States have helped equip police forces. Chalmers said other weapons are or would become available to both the Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the near future, including Swedish AT4 antitank rockets and French MILAN anti-tank guided missiles.
Peshmerga forces, which have been in near-constant combat with ISIS fighters for years, are informing coalition officials about what weapons and training are most effective against ISIS, Chalmers said. Coalition officials routinely revisit training and equipping plans to revise what is working and what is not, he said.
“And as they go through that period, we tune our training, and as you’ve described, we tune some of the equipment that we provide, Chalmers said. “We get a better idea of what they use in higher ratios than not. And some of the items you’ve mentioned there are the sort of bits on the list.”