US troops backing Iraqi attack in Mosul

A U.S. soldier scans for trouble just west of the Great Zab River, near Mosul, Iraq, on Tuesday Nov. 1, 2016.


By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 1, 2016

NEAR MOSUL, Iraq — U.S. special operators were at the front line on the edge of Mosul earlier on Tuesday with elite Iraqi troops who were preparing to enter the Islamic State’s last stronghold in the country.

The Americans wore black uniforms and drove black armored vehicles, blending in with their Iraqi counterparts from the U.S.-trained Golden Division just outside the village of Gogjali on the eastern edge of Mosul. Several had skull and crossed swords patches and one had a sign on his helmet that read: “Hippie Killer.” They were not allowed to talk to the media and asked not to be photographed.

Later Tuesday, Iraq's special forces entered the outskirts of Mosul, taking the state television building and advancing despite fierce resistance by Islamic State group fighters who control the city, an Iraqi general told The Associated Press.

Troops entered Gogjali, a neighborhood inside Mosul's city limits, and later the borders of the more built-up Karama district, according to Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of the Iraqi special forces. As the sun went down, a sandstorm blew in, reducing visibility to only 100 yards and bringing the day's combat to an end, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, U.S. Army engineers also pushed closer to the city, searching for improvised bombs just west of the Great Zab River, about halfway from the Kurdish city of Irbil to Mosul. The troops, wearing 101st Airborne Division patches, said they weren’t allowed to talk to the media. When a loud explosion rocked a nearby village, soldiers who had been scouting a roadside compound ran back to their armored vehicles.

The American special operators near Gogjali set up a mortar, unloaded a bazooka-style weapon and watched nearby fighting from a farmhouse roof.

From their position a large television antenna in the center of Mosul was visible. Rockets screamed through the air, machine guns barked and explosions shook the earth while the Golden Division troops pushed forward in armored vehicles.

At around midday a drone the Americans had launched earlier stalled and crashed beside the farmhouse, breaking its wings and propeller.

Leaflets dropped on the city urged locals who have been helping the Islamic State to turn against the militants in exchange for the Iraqi government’s forgiveness.

Cpl. Hammed Kasim, 24, smiled and waved around a steel hatchet. He claimed he’d used it to torture enemy prisoners in the nearby town of Bartella last week, but added: “I didn’t get them to talk.”

Another Iraqi soldier, Cpl. Ali Abdul Hussain, 28, of Baghdad, said the farmhouse where the Americans were positioned was only two miles from Mosul’s city limits. He said the Golden Division recaptured it on Monday.

“The enemy fought us with three car bombs and rocket propelled grenades,” he said.

His comrade, Cpl. Zaidoun Ali, 28, of Baghdad, said airstrikes destroyed the car bombs. Iraqi forces had advanced on three sides to surround the militants in Gogjali, he said. 

“We killed 25 of them,” he said.

The troops showed off a Motorola radio and chargers they said were standard issue for Mosul police but were captured from the enemy. The militants tried to contact their dead comrades over the radio all night but gave up in the morning, they said.

A few miles away from the frontline, in Bartella, displaced Christian families were allowed to visit homes liberated by the Golden Division last week.

Widad Tuma, 45, a mother of four, returned to find her home destroyed in an airstrike and most of her possessions looted.

“All we could find were our photo albums and some clothes,” she said.

Zainab Olivo contributed to this report.

Twitter: @sethrobson1


Members of the Iraqi army's elite Golden Division near Mosul, Iraq, on Tuesday Nov. 1, 2016.