Walling Mosul


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An Iraqi policeman at the checkpoint outside Combat Outpost Knife in Mosul.

MOSUL, IRAQ: The building of new combat outposts has been an integral part of the counterinsurgency plan to secure Mosul. The expansion of the outposts inside the city, as well as the rebuilding of a berm surrounding the city, are seen as vital elements in reducing the violence in the northern city.

The 4th Brigade of the 2nd Iraqi Army Division has opened its newest combat outpost, or COP, in northern Mosul. The brigade, along with its 3rd Battalion, rolled out from Forward Operating Base Lion to the newly built Combat Outpost Knife in the Rashidiyah neighborhood. Knife will be manned by elements from the brigade's 3rd Battalion while Iraqi police will man the checkpoints on the crossroad outside the outpost.

Brigadier General Noor Aldeen, the 4th Brigade's commander, picked the location of Combat Outpost Knife to secure one of the northern approaches from Mosul from insurgent infiltration. US engineers just completed construction of Combat Outpost Knife over the past few days.

Al Qaeda in Iraq and its extremist allies have reacted to the attempt to install the new outpost in the northern part of the city by stepping up attacks in the region. Three roadside bombing attacks have been recorded near COP Knife over the past two days. An attack last night on an Iraqi Army patrol from the 3rd Battalion resulted in two soldiers wounded and a damaged up-armored Humvee.

The 4th Brigade extracted a measure of revenge today when a patrol from 2nd Battalion spotted a suspicious car and pulled it over. The Iraqi soldiers discovered six assembled roadside bombs in the car and detained the driver. The Iraqis believe they will be able to track down the bomb factory after an interrogation of the driver. "The Iraqis can detect things we could never see," said Lieutenant Colonel Eric Price, the Military Transition Team leader for the 4th Brigade. "They know when something is out of place. We [US soldiers] would not have detected something wrong with that car."

The new combat outposts are constantly monitored by senior US and Iraqi commanders. Brigadier General Tony Thomas, the deputy commander for Multinational Division North, and Brigadier General Mouta'a, the 2nd Iraqi Army Division commander, planned a visit to Knife on March 11 as part of a battlefield circulation.

Iraqi and US troops play soccer as they wait for the generals to visit COP Knife. Click to view.

Mosul has been unseasonably warm the past week with temperatures in the mid-eighties. But that didn't deter the troops from kicking around the soccer ball as they waited for the generals to arrive. The Iraqi officers and soldiers and Price passed some of the time waiting for Thomas' arrival at Knife by playing soccer inside the new outpost. In full body armor.

The establishment of Combat Outpost Knife is part of the counterinsurgency plan to secure Mosul. The Iraqi Army has begun to repair the berm that was initially built around the entire city in 2005. The purpose of the berm is to limit the flow of insurgent traffic into the city. Multiple traffic control points will be established on the major roads into and out of Mosul, and will be manned by Iraqi soldiers and police. Iraqi soldiers will also patrol the outside of the berm to prevent insurgents from breaking through and bypass the checkpoints.

The Iraqi Army and US forces are also building additional outposts bases inside the city to influence the activities in the neighborhoods. The Iraqi police, who are recruited locally, man scores of police stations throughout Mosul. The Iraqi Army currently operates more than 20 combat outposts and is in the process of building more. Noor Aldeen is seeking to place the 4th Brigade's newest outpost in the heart of eastern Mosul's worst neighborhoods.

Brigadier Generals Thomas [left] and Mouta'a tour COP Knife. Click to view.

Other critical elements in securing Mosul are expanding the personnel of the Iraqi Army units in the city and fixing the vehicles damaged or destroyed in roadside bombing or other attacks. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense is seeking to increase the manning of the 2nd Iraqi Army Division to 135 percent of capacity, Thomas said while touring Combat Outpost Knife.

The additional soldiers will allow the Iraqi Army to expand into the city while still maintaining its liberal leave policies. The 2nd Division soldiers are given seven days of leave for every 14 days worked; the rest of the Army receives seven days leave for every 21 days on duty, which itself is a generous policy.The Ministry of Defense is seeking to bring the 2nd Division's leave policy in line with the rest of the force, but the 2nd Division is taking baby steps to get there. Before changing over to 14 days on duty, seven days off duty, the 2nd Division would grant seven off for every seven worked.

The 4th Brigade is ahead of the expansion curve as it has recruited more than 800 soldiers on it own. The 4th Brigade, which is nearly exclusively Kurdish, is working to recruit Arabs into its ranks. While these soldiers are currently waiting to go to mandatory basic training in an Iraqi academy, the brigade has instituted a training regime to instill basic soldiering skills such as marching, saluting, and following commands.

Recruits from the 2nd Brigade march in formation at Forward Operating Base Lion. Click to view.

Thomas also said the logistical issue that has plagued the readiness of Iraqi units will receive special attention, and an effort will be made to allocate additional replacement Humvees for those that have been lost. The 4th Brigade has had 15 of its vehicles taken out of the fight due to repair issues, and it cannot receive replacements due to administrative issues at the divisional level or higher. Noor Aldeen is frustrated with the logistical issues as he has lost a significant element of his unit's mobility with replacement and repair requests languishing in the Soviet-style bureaucracy of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.



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READER COMMENTS: "Walling Mosul"

Posted by anand at March 11, 2008 3:35 PM ET:

Very good article Bill. This is the best open source reporting on Northern Mosul and the 2nd IAD.

You are right about the vehicles. Replacement vehicles has been a longstanding issue with 2nd IAD.

This is one reason why I think it will take longer to upgrade Iraqi bns to wheeled mechanized lightly armored cavalry.

Several wheeled IFVs will be needed by 2nd IAD. Inside Mosul, my guess is that tracked IFVs are not as useful because of the damage they inflict on physical infrastructure, their slower speed on paved roads, and because of poorer fuel economy.

I suspect that many 2nd IAD companies and bns are upgraded to wheeled mechanized lightly armored cavalry.

I would be interested in how their engineers are coming along. Each IA brigade is getting one EOD company and one combat engineer company. Each division is getting a construction engineering battalion.

2nd IAD had lower priority in getting engineers than many other IADs.

Posted by Doug Santo at March 12, 2008 12:43 PM ET:

Good report.

Straight factual reporting from this important area does not exist, except for you and Michael Yon.

Keep up the good work.

Doug Santo
Pasadena, CA

Posted by David M at March 12, 2008 12:43 PM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/12/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.