Marines will continue to help Iraqi security forces destroy what’s left of ISIS as enemy fighters try to hide among civilians.
Close to 1,000 Marines are currently advising Iraqi security forces, said Marine Brig. Gen. Robert Sofge, deputy commanding general for operations in Iraq and director of the Combined Joint Operations Center, where he works with the Iraqi equivalent of the U.S. military’s joint staff.
Working out of their “old stomping grounds” in Anbar province, Marines are helping coordinate artillery and airstrikes in support of Iraqi forces, providing Iraqi units with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and flying MV-22B Ospreys and planes to support operations, Sofge said.
“Marines, in particular, understand western Iraq,” Sofge told Marine Corps Times. “We spent most folks’ career there and there are relationships there that endure. Even while priorities may shift in and around [U.S. Central Command], that doesn’t make what’s going in Anbar [province] less important.”
Right now, the Marine Corps is leading a task force that is assisting Iraqi security forces near al-Qaim, which Iraqi security forces recently retook from ISIS, he said.
With the exception of Rawa, a city north of the Euphrates river, ISIS has “largely broken and run” from Iraqi cities, Sofge said. Although the fight against ISIS remains conventional, it is moving into a new phase.
“We believe that the enemy is in the deserts and also fading into the civilian population,” Sofge said. “There’s still a great deal of work to be done even if it’s not against traditional formations in the cities.”
So far, ISIS has not returned to the insurgent tactics used by its predecessor al-Qaida in Iraq, he said. Marines are not advising Iraqi security forces how fight insurgents because the Iraqis are not conducting counterinsurgency operations.
Going forward, Marines will continue to play an important role in the overall U.S. military effort to defeat ISIS in Iraq, he said. With their training on how to be part of an air-ground task force, Marines are uniquely qualified to advise Iraqi troops on how to maneuver and fight.
“The military defeat of ISIS is near ― I think everybody recognizes that,” Sofge said. “For that, the Iraqi security forces should be congratulated. But the work is not done. In fact, the work becomes more nuanced and more difficult here to get that last bit out of ISIS out of the country.”