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1st Armored Division helping Iraqis make progress in fight against ISIS

A U.S Army M109 A6 Paladin, assigned to B Battery, 4th Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Armor Division, waits for a fire mission near Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 3, 2016.

JOSHUA WOOTEN/U.S. ARMY PHOTO

By DAVID BURGE | El Paso Times, Texas (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 8, 2017

The Iraqis are making tremendous progress in their fight against the Islamic State, and soldiers from Fort Bliss’ 1st Armored Division have been playing an important command and support role since arriving in the country this summer, a British general said.

“ISIS will be defeated in Iraq,” said British Brig. Gen. Frazer Lawrence, who has served as a deputy commanding general with the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss since arriving at the installation in October 2015 in an exchange program.

“The coalition, with the 1st Armored Division as part of it, is committed to enabling our Iraqi partners to be able to do that (defeat IS),” Lawrence added during a telephone interview from Baghdad.

A team of about 400 soldiers from the 1st Armored Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion and Division Artillery deployed to Iraq this summer and took over the mission leading what is called Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command.

Maj. Gen. Robert “Pat” White, the commanding general for Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division, is leading this important command. Lawrence is serving as deputy commander.

This organization oversees nearly 10,000 U.S. and coalition troops from 23 countries who are helping to train, assist and advise the Iraqis in their fight against IS.

Shortly after the 1st Armored Division took over this command role in July, the Iraqi city of Mosul – which had served as the capital of the IS caliphate – was liberated, Lawrence said.

Other large population centers, like Tal Afar, Ana and Akashat, have been liberated since the 1st Armored Division arrived too, he added.

“The success of the Iraqi security forces has been significant in the months since we got there,” Lawrence said. “With our support, they have made huge gains over the past three to four months.”

The Iraqi government reported Thursday that it had retaken the city of Hawija in the north-central part of the country.

The only other significant population center under IS control is around Al Qaim and Rawa in the Anbar province in the western part of the country, Lawrence said.

“Once those have been liberated, all the major population centers will be under the control and influence of the Iraqi government,” Lawrence said.

The team from the 1st Armored Division replaced the 1st Infantry Division headquarters from Fort Riley, Kan., and took over this command role on July 12. Soldiers from Fort Bliss started deploying in June and are expected to stay for about nine months.

Fort Bliss soldiers are stationed in Baghdad, Erbil and other locations around Iraq.

To form the land headquarters in Iraq, the team from the 1st Armored Division joined with a larger force consisting of troops from sister U.S. services and from coalition partners. The total headquarters team is about 1,500 troops with about half from coalition partners, Lawrence said.

In the summer of 2014, IS was “at the gates of Baghdad,” Lawrence said.

Since then, the Iraqis have liberated 4 million of their own people from the “repressive regime” of IS and 41,000 square kilometers of territory or nearly 16,000 square miles – about the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined, Lawrence said.

The 1st Armored Division headquarters began training for this command mission nearly a year ago. The train-up included the elaborate Warfighter command post exercise held in February at Fort Bliss.

The Warfighter helped get 1st Armored Division soldiers ready for all the functions they would be performing in Iraq, such as helping the Iraqis plan operations, Lawrence said. The 1st Armored Division is also helping to provide intelligence and joint fires support to the Iraqis, he added.

Lawrence said he has benefited immensely from having lived at Fort Bliss and training with the 1st Armored Division team that ended up deploying.

“I am part of the 1st Armored Division,” Lawrence said. “I have trained with all the people in it. General White is my neighbor at Fort Bliss. I know everyone really well.”

“Having trained up with the division, I don’t have to develop relationships with the American staff,” he continued. “I know them. They are my friends and colleagues. It also helps that I understand American terminology, acronyms. I am able to translate for the other coalition partners.”

To do their jobs in relative peace of mind, soldiers need to know that they have the support of their families and the community back home, Lawrence said.

“And 1st Armored Division families and El Paso have been giving us tremendous support,” Lawrence said. “We couldn’t do our jobs without you.”

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