The Manhattan and Junction City Area Chambers of Commerce came together Wednesday on Fort Riley for a combined Military Affairs Council/Military Relations Committee luncheon, where they heard from the Commanding General of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin as he spoke about the liberation of Iraqi city Mosul from Islamic State (IS) fighters. Martin took part in this liberation and, while he wouldn’t say how many soldiers were involved in it, he did go into some detail about how it happened.
IS had overtaken the city, and had spread throughout Iraq.
America’s Iraqi allies were in bad shape, according to Martin, when the 1st Infantry Division was deployed this past autumn to help.
“The security apparatus in Iraq was in disarray,” Martin said. “Everybody was wondering if ISIS was going to establish its caliphate across the entire country.”
American soldiers formed a coalition with Iraqi fighting forces to prevent this from happening.
IS didn’t fall easily. Islamic State leaders figured out what security forces were the most competent, according to Martin, before sending their best fighters and resources against those forces. A coordinated strike against Al Salam Hospital, an attempt by coalition forces to liberate the facility, failed.
While the attempt to take the hospital has been widely regarded as a tactical failure, Martin feels it wasn’t because of what coalition fighters learned through the battle.
“We learned that the enemy couldn’t fight in multiple directions,” he said.
Members of the Iraqi fighting forces performed an after-action review, something they wouldn’t normally have done, and determined what they needed to do.
“What they determined is that we’ve got to fight together, we’ve got to stop fighting as three separate entities, we’ve got to be side by side, linked into each other,” Martin said. “And then what I, as the coalition force commander, call the secret sauce is revealed — the recipe. And here’s the recipe. It’s synchronized Iraqi maneuvers on the ground enabled by our intelligence capability, our command and control capability, and our joint coalition fighters.”
The combined Iraqi and American forces succeeded in their task, protecting Baghdad from being overtaken by enemy fighters and pushing back IS forces all over Iraq.
During his talk, Martin spoke about how IS had succeeded in overtaking so much territory in Iraq.
“They were a very competent and capable, well-resourced military that was aspiring to become a nation-state,” he said.
IS, Martin said, is capable of providing nearly everything the people its fighters conquer need, including hospitals.
“They went into Mosul and they murdered anybody who they thought would stand in their way — intellectuals, military ... and other folks that would stand in their way. And once they finished that then they would very quickly transition to providing essential services for the population,” he said.
Martin said this quick transition from brutality to kindness provided many people in Mosul with a false sense of security.
IS also enslaved members of the population, he said, which meant IS, in addition to the roughly two years it had to prepare for the fight for Mosul, also had an enslaved, oppressed population — many members of which would do whatever IS instructed.
Mosul is by no means a small city — Martin said it has a population of about 1.8 million, 200,000 buildings all of which coalition forces had to clear, and about 3,000 kilometers of road.
“I’ve been serving for 31 years and that thought daunts me,” Martin said.
However, Mosul remains free.
According to Martin, life is returning to normal in Mosul. Markets have reopened and children have been able to return to school.
Stabilizing Iraq, according to Martin, was an important part of stabilizing the region, which he said in turn makes Americans safer back home.