It was only a matter of time before Western soldiers serving as advisors to Iraqi troops began to take on a role more closely resembling conventional ground forces. Any soldier or journalist who has served as a combat advisor or alongside one knows that, when the gunfire starts, the distinctions between advisor and combatant quickly blurs. That blurring has begun.
On Monday, a Canadian brigadier general confirmed to reporters that Canadian troops were recently engaged by forces loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and they returned fire.
Canadian special forces exchanged gunfire with Islamic State fighters in Iraq in recent days, in the first confirmed ground battles between Western troops and IS, a briefing heard Monday.
“My troops had completed a planning session with senior Iraqi leaders several kilometers behind the front lines,” Brigadier General Michael Rouleau said.
“When they moved forward to confirm the planning at the front lines in order to visualize what they had discussed over a map, they came under immediate and effective mortar and machine gunfire.”
It is only a matter of time before American troops stationed in dangerous theaters of combat operations in Iraq like Anbar province are forced to shed their advisory capacity and engage in direct combat with ISIS.
And when the shooting starts, it will likely start in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar province. U.S. soldiers guarding an Iraqi military base in Anbar are coming under frequent mortar fire from ISIS positions and, while the attacks have caused no injuries yet, that luck can only hold for so long.
“The 300 US soldiers and Marines at al Asad air base in Iraq’s Anbar province continue to see mortar fire directed at their positions, with six more mortar rounds landing on the sprawling complex last week,” read a report via Gannett’s Defense News last Wednesday. “A Pentagon spokesman confirmed the incoming fire, but said that the closest rounds landed about a kilometer away, noting that the base is roughly the size of the city of Boulder, Colorado.”
“About 320 troops — mostly US Marines — started working with Iraqi army units in recent days at the sprawling al-Asad base, which officials insisted was facing no imminent threat from the IS militants,” AFP reported in early January. “US warplanes have carried out a steady stream of air raids near the Asad base against the IS militants, who have gained a firm foothold in the west.”
Approximately 2,200 American troops are presently on the ground in Iraq serving as advisors to Iraqi and Kurdish forces in Iraq, with nearly 1,000 more American soldiers slated to join in the mission later this month.