Operation Inherent Resolve continues in Iraq, but the Army’s 3rd Armored Corps has taken over the fight against ISIS.
Fort Bragg’s 18th Airborne Corps Headquarters element has returned home. Most of the unit’s 450 paratroopers came back over the last few weeks. Their commander, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, and the last 40 members of the outfit, arrived last Wednesday evening. They were met at Pope Field’s green ramp by family and friends.
“Our Soldiers and units are skilled, tough and stand ready around the clock to defend America,” Townsend said before his group deployed in August of 2016. “I could not be prouder of any organization I’ve served in,” he said upon their return.
Townsend’s Combined Joint Task Force was an international coalition of 73 nations formed three years ago to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The general told news reporters gathered to greet the soldiers, “It’s not over yet, but we put a huge dent in ISIS.”
None of the Corps’ soldiers lost their lives during the 12-month deployment but 13 members of the Coalition were killed. Townsend said the Corps’ mission was to help Iraqi and Syrian forces defeat the enemy by enabling them in five ways: supplying equipment, training, intelligence, precision air and ground fires and combat advice.
“In 2014, they were broken and defeated,” Gen. Townsend said of Iraqi troops. He now says that over the past three years the Coalition has made significant progress. It has trained more than 120,000 partner forces, and 80,000 square kilometers, which were once held by the enemy, have been reunified. And 5.6 million people in Iraq and Syria have been liberated from ISIS control. Townsend said Iraqi security forces lost 10,000 troops in the fight.
In July 2017, the Iraqi city of Mosul was recaptured by security forces backed by the U.S. “In Mosul we saw the toughest fighting anyone has seen since World War II,” Townsend told reporters. He noted this is not typical warfare. War fighters had to overcome ISIS’ use of chemical weapons, explosive-laden drones, suicide missions, armored car bombs and the use of civilians as human shields. “Every victory against ISIS in Iraq and Syria makes us that much safer here at home,” Townsend said.
The Corps transitions back to Fort Bragg to reset, refit and begin training for the next mission. “It is not the nature of Paratroopers to sit on their hands. We will train hard to ensure we are ready to answer the nation’s call,” Townsend said.
Returning paratroopers enjoyed a four-day weekend. Asked what’s next for him, Townsend said he’s not looking beyond commanding 18th Airborne Corps. The 56 year-old three-star general has been the Corps’ commander for two years, which is the typical length of a tour for Fort Bragg’s commanding general.