8 September 2017

Lightning Tal Afar Battle Tests U.S. Soldiers’ Agility

During the grinding battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, U.S. advisers to the Iraqis often settled in at tactical bases near the front for several weeks, but the fast-moving fight for Tal Afar — one of the last ISIS bastions in Iraq before being liberated Thursday — put their agility to the test.

Less than 20 miles from Tal Afar, on the eighth day of the Iraqi-led offensive, a whirlwind spun a column of dust across a field, but the U.S. artillery firing line was still. A crew member from a Paladin self-propelled howitzer washed laundry in a bucket, teased by a peer who dumped water on his head.

Nothing would remain damp long in the baking heat, though, which was fortunate for Spc. Gary Bartnik. Sometime after he’d started the wash, the platoon was ordered to move out again, about two weeks after rolling in.

Coalition troops were being repositioned to support their partners better after Iraqi Security Forces swiftly routed ISIS militants from Tal Afar, located about 25 miles from the border with Syria, and pursued hundreds to a village to the northwest. Days later, in the middle of its second week, the battle would be declared over.

The Iraqi offensive, planned and launched less than two months after a punishing, nearly 270-day battle in Mosul, impressed some U.S. advisers. It may also have caught ISIS flat-footed, causing them to fold and run, said Col. Charlie Costanza, a coalition deputy commander in Irbil.

But even before the battle had started, preparations for it required soldiers to adapt on the fly. Lt. Col. John Hawbaker, a commander within the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team advising Iraqi forces, said he was planning to turn left when leading his unit’s relocation from a tactical base south of Mosul, where it had supported federal police forces, but at the last minute he was told to turn right to support the Iraqi army’s 16th division outside Tal Afar…

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