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Marines provide artillery support for Iraqi forces in Mosul attack

U.S. Marines with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, fire an M777A2 Howitzer at an ISIS infiltration route March 18, 2016.

ANDRE DAKIS/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 24, 2016

WASHINGTON — Marines at Fire Base Bell provided artillery support Thursday for Iraqi forces launching an attack to retake the Islamic State-controlled city of Mosul, the Pentagon confirmed.

The initial advances by Iraqi security forces Thursday targeted several smaller villages south of Mosul, which the Islamic State captured in the summer of 2014. Since that time, the terrorist group has used the city as its de-facto capital in Iraq.

“The Iraqis have announced an operation in Makhmour to liberate several villages in the vicinity. The coalition is assisting the operation with airstrikes and fire support to protect Iraqi forces,” said Christopher Sherman, a Department of Defense spokesman. “The Marines at [Fire Base] Bell are providing fire support for this operation.”

The Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived in Iraq about two weeks ago and almost immediately came under enemy fire as they set up Fire Base Bell. The base, which military officials have called a defensive position, is roughly two hundred yards outside a major training base at Makhmour, where approximately 100 U.S. advisers are working with thousands of soldiers from the Iraqi Army’s 15th Division in advance of the main attack on Mosul, the country’s second largest city.

On Saturday, just days after they had set up Fire Base Bell, artilleryman Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin was killed and eight other Marines were injured after two Katuysha rockets were fired at the position. On Monday, the base was attacked again by a squad-sized group of Islamic State fighters who targeted the artillery base with small arms fire. No Marines were injured in that incident and two Islamic State fighters were killed.

Fire Base Bell has four 155mm Howitzer cannons alongside infantrymen in a “defensive” role, Army Col. Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters earlier this week. The approximately 200 Marines were deployed there to provide protection for forces at Makhmour, including U.S. trainers and the Iraqi security forces training there.

“[Fire Base Bell] provided protective fires. It’s what they are there for,” Warren said late Thursday from Baghdad. U.S. airpower also has increased its attacks on Mosul in recent weeks, including eight strikes Wednesday that hit four Islamic State tactical units, and destroyed vehicles, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, six Islamic State assembly areas and an Islamic State mortar position.

copp.tara@stripes.com
Twitter: @TaraCopp

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