Task force denies reports US engaged in ground combat with Islamic State

In this file photo from Sept. 28, 2008, infantry Marines make sure their weapons are in working condition at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq.


By HOWARD ALTMAN | Tampa (Fla.) Tribune | Published: December 22, 2014

TAMPA (Tribune News Service) — Contrary to reports coming out of Iraq, U.S. troops have not engaged in ground combat with the Sunni insurgent group Islamic State, according to the task force in charge of running daily operations in the U.S. and coalition mission known as Operation Inherent Resolve.

“We have seen the recent media stories and there has been absolutely no contact between U.S. military forces on the ground and ISIL (Islamic State) near al Asad air base or anywhere else in Iraq,” said Gary Boucher, a spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. “The reports are unfounded. Throughout the past week, Iraqi security forces have had engagements with ISIL in the vicinity of al Asad Air Base. However, U.S. forces were not a part of those engagements.”

In the past week, news organizations such as the Daily Mail in England have reported what they claim was the first ground battle between U.S. forces and Islamic State, referred to locally as Daesh.

Although there are U.S. troops at the air base, expected to be one of the places where a total of 12 brigades of Iraqi troops will receive training, there is no plan for them to take part in combat operations, Boucher said.

“There are U.S. military assessment teams at Al Asad conducting subject-matter-expert exchanges at the headquarters level, but they are not accompanying (Iraqi security forces) units conducting offensive actions against ISIL,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the Sunni insurgent group that has swept across much of Syria and Iraq, taking over several cities, killing thousands and trying to create a new Islamic caliphate.

U.S. and coalition militaries have made more than 1,300 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria since Aug. 8, when the campaign later named Operation Inherent Resolve began.

This is a hectic time for the commandos such as those at al-Asad and the Tampa-based commands that oversee their efforts.

U.S. military operations in the region are overseen by U.S. Central Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base and commando operations are run by Special Operations Command Central, CENTCOM’s commando subcommand also headquartered at MacDill.

That’s why Army Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, SOCCENT’s commander, is even busier than usual these days.

Aside from running SOCCENT, he is in charge of a newly formed command in charge of training up the so-called moderate Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State in Syria.

The Combined Joint Interagency Task Force was established in late October, said Army Maj. Curt Kellogg, a CENTCOM spokesman.

“Its objective is to train and equip a force capable of contesting Daesh in Syria,” said Kellogg in an email to The Tribune. CENTCOM and the task force prefer to use the Islamic name Daesh instead of Islamic State. “Alongside our international partners, this collaborative effort consists of (Pentagon), diplomatic organizations, intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Each interagency partner brings their own unique set of specialties to this whole of government approach.”

The headquarters is now located in Qatar. Army Maj. Tiffany Bowen, Nagata’s spokeswoman, says it is seeking a permanent home.

Army Lt. Gen. James Terry, the overall commander on the ground in Iraq for Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters last week that plans to train up to 5,000 moderate Syrians a year have been delayed to get the proper authority and funding. Then he pushed it back to Centcom for more details.

“All parties involved are interested in establishing the train-and-equip program for moderate Syrian opposition as quickly and successfully as possible and the goal is to begin training sometime after the first of the year,” says Kellogg, “but the timeline is still somewhat fluid as we continue to work through the various details involved.”


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