WASHINGTON – United States troops embedded as advisers with Iraqi forces have engaged in combat during the battle for the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, a U.S. spokesperson for the counter-ISIS fight said Wednesday.
“When someone is shooting at you that is combat. Yes. That has happened,” Air Force Col. John Dorrian, the Baghdad-based spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), told reporters via teleconference at the Pentagon.
U.S. forces have “come under fire at different times” and “have returned fire at different times,” he said, though the mission strategy is still to operate by, with and through local partners.
“We’re doing the best we can to help them to provide their advice and assistance, but not become the main effort or get involved in fighting the enemy for our partners,” Dorrian said. “Our partners are fighting the enemy and we’re supporting them with our advice and assistance.”
Some 450 conventional forces and an undisclosed number of special operators are embedded with Iraqi security forces and Iraq’s counter terrorism service, respectively, he said.
Dorrian declined to say if any U.S. troops had been wounded in the Mosul assault, citing that providing real-time numbers of wounded personnel could provide ISIS with an account of damage inflicted on the battlefield. Thirty-one people have been wounded since the anti-ISIS fight began in late 2014, according to the latest figures from the Defense Department.
Dorrian said that in the event that U.S. forces do come under attack, they “are quite capable of defending themselves and they will do so very, very robustly.”
The commander overseeing the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, said Monday that U.S. forces are fighting closer to the front lines under authorities granted during the Barack Obama administration.
“It is true that we are operating closer and deeper into Iraqi formations,” he told reporters in Baghdad. “We adjusted our posture during the east Mosul fight, and we embedded advisors a bit farther down into the formation.”
The battle for Mosul launched in late October, and U.S.-backed Iraqi forces retook the eastern half of the city in late January. The fight for the western half of Iraq’s second-largest city, which is divided by the Tigris River, is expected to be an “extraordinarily difficult” fight in a tight urban environment.
“The very narrow areas, the very narrow streets in the ancient part of the city are going to make for a very tough going. That means … the Iraqi security forces won’t be able to go in there with vehicles,” Dorrian said. “But at the same time the enemy won’t be able to move vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, which was their weapon of choice on the eastern side, into those areas.”
Between 1,000 to 3,000 ISIS fighters are estimated to be in the city, along with 750,000 civilians, who have reportedly begun to flee the area.
“One of the things that General Townsend has been very clear on is that we’re working by, with and through the Iraqi security forces in Iraq and then our partners in Syria,” Dorrian said. “That fundamental principle isn’t going to change.”
Today my thoughts are w/the brave forces of Iraq involved in the campaign to retake Western Mosul from Daesh.hoping for safety of civilians. pic.twitter.com/qJCrhKzWOE
— Frank Baker (@FrankBakerFCO) February 19, 2017