Special Forces and the Kurds in the Iraq War

Special forces played an oversized role in the Iraq War. Besides SEAL and British special forces operations in the Shiite region of the south and the importance of sniper teams in the defeat of the Fedayeen and Baathists in Basra, the western desert was seized and held largely by special forces.

The 5th Special Forces Group under Colonel John Mulholland with a few thousand soldiers took control of the dessert area, which effectively secured the left flank of V Corp as it moved north, and it also created an area for maneuver for other special forces units.

Overall command of special forces was in the hands of Brigadier General Gary Harrell, who used the 10th Special Forces Group, under Colonel Charlie Cleveland, to secure Northern Iraq and actually mobilize Kurdish units to fight against Baathist units in the North. This put additional pressure on Saddam's regime, and also prevented resources from being used to resist the V Corp and MEF drives to Baghdad. The U.S. Air Force and Navy also supported this operation with fighters. The Air Force employed AC-130 gunships, a remarkable aircraft armed with a 105 mm cannon on the left side.

The 10th Special Forces Group in the Kurdish area of Iraq was also tasked with destruction of an Al Qaeda camp situated close to the border with Iran, and to secure oil fields. The Kurdish force, supported by special forces drove south and were soon joined by the 173rd airborne brigade, under Colonel William Mayville, and other regular army units which were flown in once Bashur Airfield was secured. These joint forces destroyed three regular Iraqi army divisions and one Republican Guard division and eventually captured Mosul.

It is interesting to note that the 101st Airborne as well as the 82nd Airborne had a role reversal from that for which airborne units were initially developed. During World War II airborne units were dropped behind enemy lines in order to secure forward objectives, disrupt enemy supply lines, and demoralize the enemy. In the Iraq War, these elements were instead used to keep lines of supply open to forward troops, actually keeping the enemy from performing the task that the airborne units themselves previously performed. Of course, Airborne units have always been elite forces put to special tasks using light weapons, and this aspect did not change. Both the 82nd and the 101st were employed to do hard fighting in tough and often emergency circumstances.

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