A detachment from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit has set up a secret firebase in northern Iraq to support operations of the U.S. and coalition forces fighting ISIS.
Yesterday, ISIS targeted the firebase, firing two rockets, one of which landed inside the base killing one Marine and wounding several others.
Initially, the Pentagon claimed that the Marine, Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin, of Temecula, California, was killed by “indirect fire” from ISIS. But it seems clear that ISIS saw the Marines moving into the firebase and fired directly into the base.
The existence of a combat unit in Iraq that could be targeted by ISIS was unknown until the rocket attack. The Pentagon claims it was going to announce the existence of the base sometime this week.
The Pentagon has yet to formally acknowledge it has established its first U.S. fire base in Iraq in the current fight against ISIS for what the official said will eventually be a limited ground combat operation in support of the Iraqis.
The Marines will be using their field artillery guns in the coming weeks to help defend Iraqi troops as they move towards Mosul. For now, the artillery is to defend another nearby base where American troops are getting 5,000 Iraqi forces ready for the operation to retake Mosul.
The Marines first began moving into the area just two weeks ago from their own base of operations aboard an amphibious assault ship the USS Kearsarge, the defense official told CNN.
The Marines had finished setting up and testing their artillery just two or three days before the attack. There was a brief mention of a coalition fire base in a statement Saturday announcing the death of the Marine, but the official said the only troops there are American Marines and no other coalition forces.
On Sunday, the coalition announced that in consultation with the government of Iraq, the U.S. “has assigned a detachment of U.S. Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to the support of Iraqi Security Force and Coalition ground operations. The detachment from the 26th MEU will add to the Marines and Sailors currently in Iraq” supporting the effort against ISIS.
The Marines have already named the location “Fire Base Bell.” The U.S has similar artillery at two other large Iraqi bases, but Bell is the only known fire base. That terminology signifies this is a small remote location designed to use its artillery to support infantry troops at forward locations.
Why the secrecy? Probably because President Obama had assured the American people many times previously that there would be no combat troops deployed to Iraq.
Washington Post: (10/30/15)
The White House is announcing Friday that a small number of special forces will be put on the ground in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria — a new strategy that pretty clearly contradicts past Obama and administration statements that U.S. forces would not be put on the ground there. As the United States got drawn into the fight against the Islamic State earlier this year, the White House repeatedly emphasized this point — a move to assure the nation that we wouldn’t be drawn into a new war like Iraq or Afghanistan.
Asked Friday about the incongruence of Obama’s past comments and putting these boots on the ground, White House press secretary Josh Earnest repeatedly emphasized that these are not combat troops — a distinction that many disagree with, we would note — and suggested promises to not put boots on the ground were being taken “out of context.”
“You’ve read one quote that, to be fair, is out of context,” he said when NBC’s Kristen Welker pointed to Obama saying in 2013 there would be no U.S. boots on the ground.
But Obama has actually said no boots on the ground repeatedly in 2013, before adjusting his language slightly — but notably — in 2014.
Of course, this puts a great big bullseye on the backs of those Marines, billeting them out in the middle of nowhere, making them highly vulnerable to ISIS artillery and rocket attacks.
Is this a way for the president to test the waters regarding a much larger intervention in Iraq? The logic of the situation demands that if Firebase Bell is attacked and we have a significant loss of life, more combat troops will be needed to protect them — and the cycle of escalation begins.
It’s one thing to have special operators assisting the Iraqis with training, lasing targets for U.S. warplanes, or assassinating high-value ISIS targets.
But Marines are lethal weapons. They are there to kill ISIS fighters and the fact that we are using one of our crack Marine outfits as part of this deployment changes the character of our intervention in Iraq.