How Fort Bragg's Troops Are Fighting the War Against ISIS

Lt. Gen Stephen J. Townsend, far left, commander of Combined Joint Task Force -- Operation Inherent Resolve, and Command Sgt. Maj. Benjamin Jones, far right, visits soldiers at Kara Soar Base, Iraq, August 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps/Ryan Alvis)
Lt. Gen Stephen J. Townsend, far left, commander of Combined Joint Task Force -- Operation Inherent Resolve, and Command Sgt. Maj. Benjamin Jones, far right, visits soldiers at Kara Soar Base, Iraq, August 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps/Ryan Alvis)

Command Sgt. Maj. Benjamin Jones is well-traveled in the war against the Islamic State.

As the senior enlisted leader of the 18th Airborne Corps and Combined Joint Task Force -- Operation Inherent Resolve, he is constantly on the move to observe the training of Iraqi forces and visit American troops.

"I'm basically the second eyes and ears for Lt. Gen. Townsend," he said, referring to the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps and combined joint task force.

That gives Jones a unique perspective on efforts to defeat the Islamic State.

Speaking to The Fayetteville Observer by telephone from an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, he recently gave an update on that fight and how coalition troops were contributing to the defeat of ISIS.

Just under 5,000 American troops are deployed to Iraq. More are based nearby in Kuwait. Altogether, about 1,000 soldiers from Fort Bragg units -- including the 18th Airborne Corps -- are deployed as part of the efforts.

They will be joined by more troops early next year, when about 1,700 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team deploy to help train, advise and assist Iraqi forces.

Working with international partners and other American units, the paratroopers will help teach the Iraqis how to best fight the Islamic State in an urban environment, how to limit civilian casualties and damage and how to defeat improvised explosive devices.

Jones, who has watched that mission closely, said American and coalition troops do more than just train their counterparts.

The mission of coalition forces includes sustainment -- helping them feed and supply their troops, and support through artillery strikes and airstrikes. There also are efforts to improve medical care and provide support for keeping law and order.

Other troops are forward staged with the Iraqis, close but not quite on the front lines.

There are no easy jobs for coalition forces in the region, Jones said. Troops live in austere environments, sometimes on remote fire bases. But they are driven by a common goal.

"All the members of the coalition truly believe in what they're doing right now," Jones said. "And we can see the results."

As Iraqi forces continue their push into Mosul -- the largest city in Iraq still held by ISIS -- Jones said coalition forces are following closely.

"Soldiers are engaged with what's going on out there," he said. And they are encouraged by what they see.

"The Iraqis are committed to this fight," Jones said. "This is not the same army as in 2014."

Jones was referring to the start of the war against ISIS, when Iraqi forces were routed as they lost control over large swaths of the country.

But more recently, the war has been very one-sided. ISIS has steadily lost territory since 2015, and it has not gained any additional footholds.

Jones said morale and motivation are high among coalition and Iraqi forces committed against an "evil, brutal enemy and ideology."

"The Iraqis are fighting to free their homeland," Jones said. "We can see progress."

Behind them are the more than 60 nations within the combined joint task force, he said. All are full partners in the fight.

"At the end of the day, Operation Inherent Resolve is about one mission with many nations and we will defeat Daesh," he said, using another name for ISIS.

Heading deeper into the holiday season, Jones said, the Fort Bragg troops working as part of combined joint task force are focused.

The foundation of their success was laid during exercises at Fort Bragg and elsewhere, he said. Training included a warfighter exercise meant to simulate the deployed environment alongside many of the units the corps is now working with.

But while that training replicated the deployed environment, troops now serving overseas are looking to home for the continued support they need to stay focused on their mission.

"As you know -- Fayetteville is a unique community," Jones said. "The support they give to Fort Bragg and their families is extremely important."

"The best way to support those deployed is to support our families back home," he said. "Continue to embrace them."

Show Full Article