DIYALA PROVINCE, Iraq – If Hollywood ever makes a movie about Special Forces in Iraq, the commander at Firebase Morehead could play himself. Wearing dark sunglasses and hair a little longer than most Soldiers, he spoke as if he didn’t have enough time to say everything he wanted to say.
“Our mission is to train and advise the ISOF 8th Regional Commando Battalion,” he said. “And the 8th’s mission is to target any terrorist network in the Diyala province.”
With words flowing as fast as rounds from an automatic weapon, he described a typical mission.
“We usually roll out at night, ISOF in the lead, accompanied by American advisors,” he said. “We detain individuals who have been warranted, gather intel at the site and disseminate the information we find. Mission dependant, we also do air assaults.”
Living conditions for the Iraqi soldiers at the Forward Operating Base are rough. But that’s about to change.
A new base with climate-controlled barracks, a dining facility, motor pool and medical clinic will be ready within a few months.
“The Iraqi special forces here are going to get everything you need to have a self-contained, SF camp,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Higgins, commander of Joint Forces Special Operations Component Command –Iraq. “This is going to be a new, clean, modern base that will raise morale considerably.”
There’s a reason behind the big investment. “Diyala is strategic, key terrain,” Higgins said. “There are numerous bad actors operating here.”
As the U.S. commander at FB Morehead sees it, sustaining pressure on terrorist networks is the key to the future. That’s one of the reasons the new FOB at Diyala is so important.
“What you see here is a huge improvement from what they’re operating out of now,” he said. “This place is going to allow them to be more focused on their missions.”
Judging by comments from their American SF counterparts, ISOF is already pretty focused.
“The strength of ISOF is close-quarters battle,” said a U.S. SF advisor. “They are very proficient in mounted operations, and they can take down an objective as well as any American unit I’ve been with.”
Higgins, whose Army career has spanned 30 years, spoke without hesitation about Iraq’s special forces. “ISOF is the most effective unit in the Iraqi army. They’re very good at close-quarters combat and direct action. And they’ve proven again and again their ability to plan and execute missions.”
There are many uncertainties about the way ahead in Iraq, but one thing is certain – that’s the relationship between U.S. and Iraqi special forces.
“The bond between ISOF and ODAs sounds cliché, but it’s true,” said the U.S. commander at FB Morehead. “We train together. We fight together. We’re bothers. We have that kind of relationship. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing the American flag or the Iraqi flag; we’re working though this together.”