The Road of Terror Leading into Mosul, Iraq

Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

On the Road to Mosul With Iraq’s Golden Brigade

Elite Iraqi troops retake town of Bartella


WiB: A soldier from the Iraqi Army’s Golden Brigade ushers a party of journalists down a dusty side street in the town of Bartella and points to a flattened pile of concrete. The rubble is all that’s left of a building after a coalition air strike.

When the bomb hit, at least one Islamic State militant was hiding in the structure. We know this because a large blackened piece of a foot lies baking in the midday sun.

It has been sitting there for at least two days. The smell is ripe.

One member of our group, a translator called Ali, starts happily taking pictures with his iPhone. Six months ago, he barely escaped Mosul with his wife and children.

The journey involved sneaking through Islamic State lines and luckily finding a safe path through the minefields that surround Iraq’s second largest city. Ali still has relatives living in Mosul under the brutal terrorist group’s rule.

For him, this is personal.

Golden Brigade soldiers travel through Bartella on the back of an armored Humvee. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

On Oct. 21, 2016, the Golden Brigade, one of Iraq’s elite special operations units, recaptured Bartella. Islamic State fighters took over the town as they pushed into the Nineveh plains in August 2014. At that time, approximately 30,000 Iraqis lived here, mainly Christians and Assyrians.

Situated on the main highway between Erbil and Mosul, Bartella is a strategic point. On Oct. 17, 2016, the Iraqi Army’s started down the route as part of a multi-pronged push towards Islamic State’s de facto capital in the country.

This marking on the door of a former Islamic State headquarters warns troops there is an improvised bomb inside. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

The Golden Brigade found that two years of Islamic State occupation were not kind to Bartella. Many streets are full of rubble and overgrown weeds. We see the occasional burned-out shop and a lot of militant graffiti.

Right now, the town is still a front line. Before residents can return and rebuild, someone will have to remove hundreds of improvised explosive devices and other dangerous ordnance the extremists left behind.

Iraqi soldiers put up this Christian cross after retaking Bartella, a now routine practice after liberating Christian and Assyrian towns. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

Beyond Bartella, in other parts of the Nineveh Governorate, the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga have gradually retaken more ground from Islamic State. Christian and Assyrian militias contributed to some of the operations.

Many of these local troops escaped just before the extremists arrived. Some fled Mosul after militants demanded non-Muslims convert to Islam, pay a tax or suffer execution.

This stencil says the house is property of Islamic State. Below is the Arabic letter “nun,” which militants used to mark Christian or Assyrian homes. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

After seizing Bartella and other towns, Islamic State disparagingly branded non-Muslim homes with the Arabic letter nun. In some passages, the Koran refers to Christians as Nasarah, or inhabitants of Nazareth, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. The symbol is reminiscent of the Nazis marking Jews with a yellow Star of David.

Golden Brigade soldiers relax in the shade. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

During War Is Boring’s visit to Bartella, some of the Golden Brigade troops were resting, while others were still clearing portions of the town. Soldiers mentioned a militant appeared that morning, shot at their comrades and then disappeared.

An Iraqi Army engineer deals with a discarded suicide belt. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

Islamic State hid improvised bombs throughout Bartella. Trying to advance quickly toward Mosul, the Iraqi Army couldn’t stop to disarm all of the devices. Someone else will have to clear the rest out later.

Iraqi Army engineers disarmed this improvised explosive device inside Bartella’s Mart Shmony Church. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

Although rigged with explosives, Islamic State left the Mart Shmony Church standing as the Golden Brigade approached Bartella. Despite the well-publicized demolition of churches in Mosul, the terrorists used this Christian house of worship for their own purposes.

A list of banal tasks for ISIS fighters on a whiteboard in the Mart Shmony Church. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

Empty ammunition boxes, stripper clips and bandoliers lie on a floor of the Mart Shmony Church. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

Militants drew this flag on a wall of the Mart Shmony Church. After Iraqi troops liberated the town, someone came hit it with a boot as an insult. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

A Christian card saying “Do not be afraid, I am with you” lies on a tiled floor outside the ransacked library. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

A Golden Brigade stands near a defaced statue in Bartella. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

Islamic State fighters blotted out the faces on this Christian mural. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

While in control of Bartella, Islamic State fighters defaced numerous statues, murals and other depictions of non-Muslim figures. The extremist group claimed these icons were an affront to their puritanical, exclusionary beliefs.

One of Islamic State’s home-built rocket sits abandoned in a graveyard attached to the Mart Shmony Church. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

The militants also smashed Christian gravestones and vandalized parts of the church.

A Christian flag hangs in the chapel of the Mart Shmony Church on the day that high ranking priests were due to arrive for the first time since August 2014. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

Empty shell cases and machine gun belt links litter the ground inside Bartella. Matt Cetti-Roberts

The Iraqi Army’s fight for the town and the surrounding area was not easy. Although we don’t have official casualty figures, Golden Brigade soldiers mentioned comrades who died in the battle.

This TOS-1 thermobaric rocket launcher in Bartella is ready to support the Iraqi Army push on toward Mosul. Matt Cetti-Roberts

Beheaded by extremists, this statue depicting the Virgin Mary perches on a dirt pile where it was placed by Iraqi soldiers. Matt Cetti-Roberts

The deserted main street of what was once Bartella’s bazaar. Matt Cetti-Roberts

It’s hard to work out how much damage militants wrought on Bartella before the Iraqi Army arrived to liberate the town. In spite of the fighting, most houses seem intact.

The resting place of an Islamic State fighter. His severed foot was out in the street. Matt Cetti-Roberts

Still, when we visited Bartella, the aftermath of battle was obvious. Pieces of clothing poked from under nearby rubble.

The remains of a body is in there somewhere, but no one is in a hurry to bury it. For now, the remains will mark the spot where the coalition hit its mark.

The smell in certain parts of town hints at more corpses hidden in the debris. When the front line has moved far enough beyond Bartella, troops will clear the bodies and bombs Islamic State abandoned in the city.

Only then will the town be ready for its displaced residents to return and begin again.

Defused improvised explosive devices sit by the side of highway from Erbil to Mosul. Matt Cetti-Roberts
A B-52 bomber refuels during a mission over Mosul in October 2016. U.S. Air Force photo

U.S. Military Blasts Islamic State’s Tunnels in Mosul

But getting at underground networks from the air is difficult


WiB: On Oct. 17, 2016, Iraqi troops and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters — backed by American and other foreign forces — began to liberate Mosul and its surrounding environs from Islamic State. The offensive quickly uncovered extensive terrorist tunnels in the city.

The Pentagon responded by blasting the underground network for the sky.

“Many of you have seen and noted the enemy’s developed extensive tunneling networks in some of the areas that they use for tactical movement and to hide weapons,” U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Oct. 28, 2016.

In total, American strikes destroyed “46 of those tunnels since the liberation battle for Mosul started on October 17th, reducing the threat from a favored enemy tactic.”

However, despite decades of experience, destroying below-ground linkages from the air is still difficult, especially in areas full of innocent civilians. According to the U.S. Air Force, American planes didn’t drop any bunker busting bombs during these missions.

“The BLU-118, BLU-121 or BLU-122 warheads or the GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator have not been used in the Liberation of Mosul campaign,” Kiley Dougherty, the head of media operations for U.S. Air Force’s Central Command told War Is Boring by email. “ In fact, these weapons have not been used at all in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.”

Inherent Resolve is the Pentagon’s nickname for the campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The Mosul operation is not the Pentagon’s first experience with tunnels. During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong insurgents famously dug wide-ranging subterranean mazes throughout South Vietnam.

In the 1970s, North Korea dug at least four large tunnels under the Demilitarized Zone to sneak spies and commandos into the South. The top American command on the peninsula created a “tunnel neutralization team” to assess and seal the passages.

Underground bunkers and cave complexes were features in the first Gulf War in 1991, the intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Pentagon has taken note of Egyptian and Israeli efforts to stop Palestinian and other militants from digging under their borders.

In December 2001, the American commandos famously tried to flush out Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts from the Tora Bora caves near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Massive B-52 bombers pounded the mountains, but could only keep the terrorists hunkered down.

“Entire lines of defense were immolated by cascades of precisely directed 2,000-lb. bombs,” U.S. Army historians wrote in 2005. “But the depths of the caves and extremes of relief limited their effectiveness considerably.”

Air Force MC-130 special operations transports dropped 15,000 pound “Daisy Cutter” bombs, but couldn’t uproot the militants. The Al Qaeda leader eventually slipped across the border to settle near the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

The last Daisy Cutter bomb explodes on a training range in Utah in 2008. U.S. Air Force photo

Within two years, the Pentagon had flown similar missions in Iraq. Despite the bombardment, on Dec. 13, 2003, a team of regular and elite U.S. troops found long-time Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein very much alive in a makeshift bunker outside the city of Tikrit.

By November 2015, tunnels again appeared as a factor in the fight against Islamic State. Faced with deadly American air strikes, the terrorists had literally gone to ground.

“In November 2015, when Kurdish forces entered Sinjar, Iraq, … they found that ISIL had adapted to air attacks by building a network of tunnels that connected houses,” U.S. Army analysts explained in a February 2016 report, using a common acronym for Islamic State.

“The sandbagged tunnels, about the height of a person, contained ammunition, prescription drugs, blankets, electrical wires leading to fans and lights, and other supplies.”

War Is Boring obtained this and other Army reviews of enemy tactics through the Freedom of Information Act.

But by the time the terrorist tunnels became an issue in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. Air Force had replaced the Vietnam-era Daisy Cutters. Instead, American crews had access to a number of newer specialized bombs.

Shortly after the Tora Bora debacle, American fliers received the first BLU-118s. Pentagon weaponeers cooked up the 2,000 pound thermobaric bombs specifically to blow up caves and tunnels.

Thermobaric warheads create massive, fireball-like explosions. If you can get one into a bunker or other confined space, the blast will bounce off the walls for an even more devastating effect.

In 2005, the Pentagon bought improved BLU-121s with a new delay fuze. This meant the bomb could bury itself deeper inside a tunnel before going off, causing maximum damage. Crews can fit both weapons with laser guidance kits for precise attacks.

And then there are bunker-busters such as the BLU-122 and GBU-57. These bombs have specialized features to break through reinforced sites, deep underground. Only the B-52 and B-2 bombers can carry the 30,000 pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator.

Sailors on the carrier USS ‘Dwight D. Eisenhower’ prepare bombs for strikes on Islamic State in October 2016. U.S. Navy photo

All of these weapons are great for attacking remote caves or isolated, underground military bases. They’re not necessarily good for attacking small tunnels in urban areas.

Even out in the open, fliers generally need powerful sensors or help from troops on the ground just to spot subterranean sites from the air. Though laser and GPS-guided bombs can strike within feet of a specific target, tunnel entrances might not be much larger than a person’s shoulders.

On top of that, in a densely packed city, any errant bombs have a greater chance of hitting unintended targets. A tunnel network under a house or apartment block presents a particularly problematic situation.

Add a thermobaric warhead to the mix and the results could be even more disastrous. There are reports Islamic State turned to human shields to ward off air strikes and Baghdad’s own thermobaric rocket launchers and artillery.

“We have seen many instances in the past where Daesh have used human shields in order to try and facilitate their escape,” Dorrian noted in his press conference. “Right now they’re using human shields to make the Iraqi Security Forces’ advance more difficult.”

The Pentagon would have run into similar hurdles when hitting the terror group’s tunnels in Mosul. By using conventional bombs, American crews might have had a harder time hitting the mark, but could better avoid unnecessary collateral damage. At the same time, this dynamic no doubt serves to reinforce the value of tunnel networks to the Islamic State.

And any assault on the group’s de facto Syrian capital in Raqqa will likely turn up more tunnels.

“Over time, adversaries of the U.S. and its allies have repeatedly shown that they are extremely adept at their use of this type of environment,” U.S. Army experts declared in a review of Hezbollah’s use of tunnels during Israel’s incursion into Lebanon in 2006.

“[This] consequently presents a situation in which, despite the U.S.’s technological superiorities, a threat could potentially gain an advantage over the U.S. and achieve victory.”

Thankfully, so far, Islamic State’s tunnels have only delayed Baghdad’s troops and their American partners.

  • Mosul Iraq now (Satellite) and in the Future

    These satellite photos reveal the scorched Earth that ISIS is leaving behind in the battle for Mosul

    BusinessInsider: As a crucial battle continues over the control of Mosul, Iraq — one of the last Islamic State (ISIS) strongholds in the country — militants are taking a play from the “scorched Earth” playbook.

    Photos released Wednesday by UrtheCast reveal the extent of oil fires and infrastructure damage inflicted by ISIS followers.

    The satellite imaging company used its Deimos-2 spacecraft to take the image below, though it also operates an ultra-high-definition video camera on a Russian module of the space station.

    Below is an infrared view of the Mosul District taken by UrtheCast on October 18:

    D2_20161018_Oil_Fires_Full_Med UrtheCast

    A zoomed-in view shows how militants are lighting the large fires inside populated areas and destroying nearby buildings:

    mosul oil fires close up urthecast UrtheCast

    This is how UrtheCast described the scence in an emailed press release:

    “The smoke covers part of the city Qayyarah, about 35 miles south of the city of Mosul, along the West Bank of the Tigris River. Mosul is the last stronghold of the extremist group ISIS in Iraq — and it’s here in Qayyarah where people flee to from Mosul, and where military forces are staged.”

    For reference, this is where the fires in this image are happening, and where the main city of Mosul is located:

    mosul oil fires urthecast Google Maps/Business Insider

    According to a New York Times dispatch from Mosul by Bryan Denton and Michael R. Gordon, the intention of the oil fires is to provide a screen:

    “Thick funnels of black smoke began rising from the towns — a past tactic used by the Islamic State militants, setting oil barrels aflame to try to screen them from American airstrikes. The strikes came anyway, sending shock waves through the haze.”

    UrtheCast’s new photos also show how ISIS militants are destroying infrastructure in the area.

    The view below shows a bridge that was recently demolished to slow the advance of Kurdish and Iraqi security forces:

    mosul destroyed bridge urthecast UrtheCast

    The international coalition that is fighting ISIS hopes to secure villages surrounding Mosul and reach the city’s center in weeks.

    But soldiers face roadside bombs, networks of secret tunnels, suicide bombers, civilians being used as human shields, and other grave threats.

    Shi’a Militias in Mosul and Beyond

    Bottom Line Up Front: 

    • Shi’a militias are a significant component of the forces attempting to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State, but the Iraqi government seeks to keep their role limited.

    • The U.S. has insisted that Shi’a militias not enter the city of Mosul because of their sectarian impulses, linkages to Iran, and the likelihood of adverse reaction from the city’s mostly Sunni inhabitants.

    • The commanders of the Iraqi Shi’a militias will likely have substantial influence over which coalition forces remain in Iraq over the longer term.

    • After the Islamic State is militarily defeated in Iraq, the Iraqi government will likely work to demobilize the Shi’a militias by integrating them into the Iraqi Security Forces.

    SoufanGroup: As with many other cities in Iraq previously liberated from the so-called Islamic State, Shi’a militia forces comprise a substantial portion of the Iraqi forces fighting to retake the city of Mosul. The Shi’a militias, which operate under an umbrella known as the ‘Popular Mobilization Units’ (PMUs), account for around 25,000 fighters of the total Iraqi force—which numbers nearly 100,000. In the prior battles, Shi’a militias entered the mostly Sunni cities, such as Tikrit, Ramadi, and Fallujah, and conducted many abuses against the local population as retribution for alleged ‘collaboration’ with the Islamic State. While Shi’a militia involvement perhaps sped up Iraqi military advances, it set back the longer term political reconciliation that is vital to permanently defeating the Islamic State. To prevent a recurrence of such actions, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi—with strong backing of U.S. military commanders in Iraq—is requiring the PMUs to only advance on Mosul from the west and help capture the city of Tal Afar, and to refrain from advancing into Mosul itself. This requirement builds on the U.S. policy of providing minimal help to the PMUs, and then only to those militias that are not advised or armed by Iran.  

    The political strength of the largest Shi’a militias—which are backed by Iran—raises the question of whether they will comply with Abadi’s directive. In mid-October, one key Iran-backed Shi’a militia leader, Asa’ib Ahl al Haq’s Qais Khazali, vowed that his forces would enter Mosul ‘in vengeance against the slayers of Hussein’—a reference to the original Sunni-Shi’a split in the early Islamic community. An area that Shi’a militia commanders and Abadi do agree, however, is in opposing the U.S. position of giving Turkey—a Sunni power—a combat role in the battle for Mosul. The broad Iraqi opposition to Turkish involvement in the Mosul fight goes beyond sectarian differences to longstanding Iraqi fears about Turkey’s territorial ambitions in northern Iraq, particularly Mosul. Iraq’s Kurds—in an uneasy partnership with Baghdad to fight the Islamic State—are also wary that Turkey may seek to maintain a military presence in Iraq after Mosul is liberated, perhaps for no other reason than to intimidate Iraqi Kurdish leaders from pursuing a planned referendum on full independence for Iraqi Kurdistan.     

    Abadi’s opposition to the U.S. stance on a Turkish contribution to the battle for Mosul illustrates the significant political influence the Shi’a militia commanders and their allies enjoy. Many Shi’a militia commanders have close ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF) from their time in the Iran-backed struggle against Saddam Hussein. IRGC-QF commander-in-chief Qasem Soleimani is in overall command of the Shi’a militia units in the Mosul battle, and has substantial influence inside the Iraqi government.

    Soleimani and the Shi’a commanders will undoubtedly play a major role in determining whether foreign forces remain in Iraq after the Islamic State is expelled from Iraqi territory. Consistent with Iran’s position, these figures have insisted that no U.S. troops remain in Iraq after the Islamic State is defeated. Further, these commanders have support from another powerful Iraqi Shi’a leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, who responded to the U.S. intervention in Iraq in 2003 by organizing the militia precursor from which many of the current militias split off. Sadr displayed his power over the summer of 2016 by twice sending his followers to storm the Iraqi parliament building in the heavily-fortified ‘Green Zone’ to demand government reform and efforts against official corruption. Although Sadr no longer enjoys Tehran’s unquestioned support and many Shi’a militia commanders are no longer loyal to him, his ability to determine outcomes in Iraq should not be underestimated.  

    Poised against the Shi’a hardliners is Abadi, who appears to recognize that a U.S. military presence will be needed in Iraq for some time after the Islamic State is defeated. To tamp down hardline Shi’a opposition to a continuing U.S. presence, Abadi plans to weaken the hardliners’ base of support by disbanding the PMUs as a separate force. Over the summer, Abadi advanced a plan to integrate the PMUs into the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) directly, although his plan attracted skeptics who argue that doing so would simply move factionalism into the ISF, rather than eliminate it entirely. That plan would also entail expenditures that Iraq can ill afford with oil prices at current levels. The more likely option is that Abadi will seek to demobilize the PMUs and encourage militia leaders to return to participating in the political process. Should he take that route, Abadi’s success in doing so will likely determine the long-term stability of Iraq.

    Obama Directs Intelligence to be Shared with Cuba

    Ah what?

    In part from CubaToday: Diaz-Balart, a member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said Cuba shares intelligence with Russia and Iran, among others. Earlier this year, Gen. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Cuba was among four countries that pose the greatest espionage threat to the United States. The others were Russia, China and Iran.

    “The threat from foreign intelligence entities, both state and non-state, is persistent, complex and evolving,” Clapper testified in a February hearing on “Worldwide Threats.” “Targeting collection of U.S. political, military, economic and technical information by foreign intelligence services continues unabated.”  

    Over the course of five decades, Fidel Castro built one of the world’s most active intelligence services, whose missions included spying on U.S. military facilities in South Florida and infiltrating leading Cuban exile organizations in Miami. More here.

    Previously on this site, it was published that Cuba’s largest source of revenue is stealing and selling intelligence and secrets to enemies of the United States.

    Now it appears, Barack Obama is not finished with his new friends in Cuba and handing off gifts to them.

    Today, I approved a Presidential Policy Directive that takes another major step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. This Directive takes a comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to promote engagement with the Cuban government and people, and make our opening to Cuba irreversible.  Read more here.

    It gets worse…..

    China and Russia have maintained a sophisticated spy base in Cuba for many years.

    The White House
    Office of the Press Secretary
    For Immediate Release

    Presidential Policy Directive — United States-Cuba Normalization

    October 14, 2016


    SUBJECT: United States-Cuba Normalization

    I. Introduction

    On December 17, 2014, I announced that the United States would chart a new course with Cuba, ending an outdated policy that had failed to advance U.S. interests and support reform and a better life for the Cuban people on the island over several decades. Under the new policy, the United States expands and promotes authorized engagements with Cuba to advance cooperation on areas of mutual interest, and increase travel to, commerce with, and the free flow of information to Cuba. The objective of the new policy is to help the Cuban people to achieve a better future for themselves and to encourage the development of a partner in the region capable of working with the United States to confront regional challenges, such as climate change, disease, and illicit trafficking.

    Endogenous changes underway in Cuba offer opportunities to advance U.S. interests and shift away from an embargo, which is an outdated burden on the Cuban people and has impeded U.S. interests. My Administration has repeatedly called on the Congress to lift the embargo. United States policy is designed to create economic opportunities for the Cuban people; promote respect for human rights; further advances on regional security and defense issues, such as health, law enforcement, and migration; and pursue cooperation with the Cuban government that can strengthen our leadership in the hemisphere. We recognize Cuba’s sovereignty and self-determination and acknowledge areas of difference. We seek to address such differences through engagement and dialogue, and by encouraging increased understanding between our governments and our peoples.

    The large Cuban-American community in the United States has an integral role to play in normalization, and in reconciliation between members of the diaspora who left Cuba and those who remain on the island. Normalization necessarily extends beyond government-to-government rapprochement — it includes rebuilding bridges between individuals and families.

    This directive: (1) describes the U.S. vision for normalization with Cuba and how our policy aligns with U.S. national security interests; (2) assesses progress toward normalization; (3) describes the current and foreseen strategic landscape; (4) describes priority objectives for normalization; and (5) directs actions required to implement this PPD.

    II. Vision for United States-Cuba Normalization

    The vision of the United States for U.S.-Cuba normalization is guided by the following national security interests, as described in the 2015 National Security Strategy:

    • The security of the United States, its citizens, and U.S. allies and partners.
    • A strong, innovative, and growing U.S. economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunity and prosperity.
    • Respect for universal values at home and around the world.
    • A rules-based international order that promotes peace, security, and opportunity.

    Our vision for U.S.-Cuba normalization reflects my Administration’s support for broad-based economic growth, stability, increased people-to-people ties, and respect for human rights and democratic values in the region. In the long-term, the United States seeks the following end-states:

    1. Enhanced security of the United States and U.S. citizens at home and abroad. We seek to ensure U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba are safe and secure and the United States is protected from: those seeking to exploit increased connectivity for illicit ends, irregular migration, and natural or man-made hazards. Our policy advances bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest, including diplomatic, agricultural, public health, and environmental matters, as well as disaster preparedness and response, law enforcement, migration, and other security and defense topics. Our policy also supports increased cooperation with Cuba on regional initiatives on behalf of these interests.

    2. A prosperous, stable Cuba that offers economic opportunities to its people. Increased travel and economic interconnectedness supports improved livelihoods for the Cuban people, deeper economic engagement between our two countries, as well as the development of a private sector that provides greater economic opportunities for the Cuban people. Efforts by the Cuban authorities to liberalize economic policy would aid these goals and further enable broader engagement with different sectors of the Cuban economy. United States policy helps U.S. businesses gain access to Cuban markets and encourages the sustainable growth of the Cuban economy. The U.S. private sector, scientific and medical researchers, agriculture industry, foundations, and other groups have new avenues for collaboration that can provide opportunities for Cuban entrepreneurs, scientists, farmers, and other professionals. At the same time, increased access to the internet is boosting Cubans’ connectivity to the wider world and expanding the ability of the Cuban people, especially youth, to exchange information and ideas. The United States is prepared to support Cuban government policies that promote social equality and independent economic activity.

    3. Increased respect for individual rights in Cuba. Even as we pursue normalization, we recognize we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We will continue to speak out in support of human rights, including the rights to freedoms of expression, religion, association, and peaceful assembly as we do around the world. Our policy is designed to support Cubans’ ability to exercise their universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, with the expectation that greater commerce will give a broader segment of the Cuban people the information and resources they need to achieve a prosperous and sustainable future. In pursuit of these objectives, we are not seeking to impose regime change on Cuba; we are, instead, promoting values that we support around the world while respecting that it is up to the Cuban people to make their own choices about their future.

    4. Integration of Cuba into international and regional systems. We seek Cuban government participation in regional and international fora, including but not limited to, those related to the Organization of American States (OAS) and Summit of the Americas to advance mutually held member objectives. We believe that a Cuba that subscribes to the purposes and standards of such fora will benefit, over time, from bringing its domestic economic and political practices in line with international norms and globally accepted standards. Our policy strengthens the U.S. position in international systems by removing an irritant from our relationships with our allies and partners and gaining support for a rules-based order.

    III. Progress Toward United States-Cuba Normalization

    Since the United States announced on December 17, 2014, that it would chart a new course with Cuba, we have re-established diplomatic relations and have made progress toward the normalization of our bilateral relationship. We opened our respective embassies, six U.S. cabinet secretaries visited Havana, four Cuban ministers visited the United States, and I became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Cuba since 1928. We established a Bilateral Commission to prioritize areas of engagement, and we concluded non-binding arrangements on environmental protection, marine sanctuaries, public health and biomedical research, agriculture, counternarcotics, trade and travel security, civil aviation, direct transportation of mail, and hydrography. We launched dialogues or discussions on law enforcement cooperation, regulatory issues, economic issues, claims, and internet and telecommunications policy.

    Given Cuba’s proximity to the United States, increased engagement by U.S. citizens, companies, and the nongovernmental sector holds extraordinary promise for supporting our national interests. Bearing in mind the limits imposed by the Cuban Liberty and Democratic (LIBERTAD) Solidarity Act of 1996 (“Libertad Act”) and other relevant statutes, the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce implemented six packages of regulatory amendments to the Cuba sanctions program, easing restrictions on travel, trade, and financial transactions. United States individuals, firms, and nongovernmental organizations are availing themselves of these regulatory changes to visit Cuba, and authorized travel to Cuba increased by more than 75 percent from 2014 to 2015. Future U.S. citizen travel will be supported by scheduled air service, which began in August 2016, and the first U.S. cruise liner visited Cuban ports in May 2016. We also commenced direct transportation of mail between our two countries, and U.S. telecommunications firms established direct voice and roaming agreements with Cuba. For its part, the Cuban government has continued to pursue incremental economic reforms and launched more than 100 public Wi-Fi hotspots across the island.

    These developments lay the foundation for long-term engagement with Cuba that advances U.S. interests. But we have a great deal more to do to build on that foundation based on a realistic assessment of the strategic landscape surrounding normalization.

    IV. Strategic Landscape

    Cuba is experiencing several transitions in areas such as leadership, the economy, technological development, civil society, and regional and global integration. Cuba’s leaders recognize the need to transition to the next generation, but they prioritize gradual, incremental changes to ensure stability.

    Cuba has important economic potential rooted in the dynamism of its people, as well as a sustained commitment in areas like education and health care. Yet the Cuban government faces significant economic challenges, including eliminating its dual-exchange-rate system, making its state-run enterprises more efficient and transparent, developing a financial system that provides expanded services to individuals and the private sector, and reducing its reliance on foreign subsidies. Cuba remains highly dependent on food and energy imports, yet must cope with limited sources of hard currency to pay for import needs. Significant emigration of working age Cubans further exacerbates Cuba’s demographic problem of a rapidly aging population.

    A series of statutes limits U.S. economic engagement with Cuba, precluding a complete lifting of restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba, prohibiting United States Government export assistance and the provision of U.S. credit for Cuban purchases of agricultural commodities, and requiring that the embargo not be suspended or terminated unless the President determines that a transition or democratically elected government has come to power in Cuba.

    Due to Cuba’s legal, political, and regulatory constraints, its economy is not generating adequate foreign exchange to purchase U.S. exports that could flow from the easing of the embargo. Even if the U.S. Congress were to lift the embargo, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued economic reform in Cuba. Cuban government regulations and opaque procurement practices hamper transactions with U.S. companies that would be permitted under U.S. law.

    Normalization efforts have raised Cubans’ expectations for greater economic opportunities. With an estimated 1 in 4 working Cubans engaged in entrepreneurship, a dynamic, independent private sector is emerging. Expansion of the private sector has increased resources for individual Cubans and created nascent openings for Cuban entrepreneurs to engage with U.S. firms and nongovernmental organizations. We take note of the Cuban government’s limited, but meaningful steps to expand legal protections and opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses, which, if expanded and sustained, will improve the investment climate.

    Cuba is not a member of international financial institutions (IFIs), such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank, which could provide expertise and potentially finance economic reforms and viable investment projects.

    Although Cuba has reached agreement with several creditor nations on bilateral debt relief through restructuring and forgiveness, it remains in default to the United States Government on pre-Cuban revolution bilateral debts and does not participate in international capital markets. Cuba and the United States are both members of the World Trade Organization (WTO); however, neither country applies the agreement to the other because of the U.S. embargo toward Cuba.

    Rapprochement has enabled us to increase our engagement with Cuba on regional issues such as the Colombia peace process and healthcare in Haiti, and has undermined an historic rallying point for regimes critical of the United States. Although Cuba has expressed no interest in participating in the OAS, it did attend the Summit of the Americas in 2015. We also welcome engagement between Cuba and other U.S. allies from around the world, including our European and Asian treaty allies. At the same time, we recognize that Cuba and the United States will continue to have differences on many regional and global issues.

    U.S. engagement with the Cuban government will also be constrained by Cuba’s continued repression of civil and political liberties. We anticipate the Cuban government will continue to object to U.S. migration policies and operations, democracy programs, Radio and TV Marti, the U.S. presence at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, and the embargo. The United States Government has no intention to alter the existing lease treaty and other arrangements related to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, which enables the United States to enhance and preserve regional security.

    In this strategic environment, the policies and actions the United States pursues to advance our vision for U.S.-Cuba normalization will significantly shape the future of bilateral and regional relations, as well as our shared security and prosperity.

    V. Six U.S. Objectives for the Medium-Term U.S.-Cuba Relationship

    To advance the four end-state goals associated with our strategic vision for U.S.-Cuba normalization, the United States will move concurrently on the following six priority objectives:

    1. Government-to-Government Interaction

    We will continue high-level and technical engagement in areas of mutual interest, including agriculture, the economy and small businesses, transportation, science and technology, environment, climate, health, law enforcement, migration, national security, disaster preparedness and response, and counterterrorism. Through the Bilateral Commission, we will identify and prioritize areas of collaboration and engagement that advance our end-state goals. Stronger diplomatic ties will enable constructive engagement on bilateral differences, including our democracy and broadcasting programs, while protecting our interests and assets, such as the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. We will utilize engagement to urge Cuba to make demonstrable progress on human rights and religious freedom. As the United States and Cuban governments build trust through more frequent engagement, we will increasingly conduct working-level interactions between Cuban ministries and U.S. agencies and departments that lessen the need for high-level conversations on routine matters. Given the lack of diplomatic relations over the past several decades, we will seek broad engagement across the Cuban government, including ministries and local officials. When appropriate and legally available, we will engage with Cuba to normalize trade relations fully.

    2. Engagement and Connectivity

    The United States will continue to encourage people-to-people linkages through government and privately sponsored exchanges, including those involving educational, cultural, business, science, environment, technology, and sports. As permitted by law, we will continue to support the development of scheduled and chartered air service and maritime links, including ferries. An ongoing partnership with the Cuban-American community is of particular importance given Cuban-Americans’ strong family and socio-cultural ties, as well as their natural role as citizen-ambassadors. We will facilitate opportunities for Cuban-Americans to rebuild and create new bonds with family to support reconciliation. To facilitate Cuba’s goal of increasing its internet access from 5 percent to 50 percent of the population by 2020, we will seek the establishment of a bilateral working group to expand internet connectivity. We will seek opportunities that enable U.S. foundations and universities to establish linkages with Cuba.

    3. Expanded Commerce

    The United States Government will seek to expand opportunities for U.S. companies to engage with Cuba. The embargo is outdated and should be lifted. My Administration has repeatedly called upon the Congress to lift the embargo, and we will continue to work toward that goal. While the embargo remains in place, our role will be to pursue policies that enable authorized U.S. private sector engagement with Cuba’s emerging private sector and with state-owned enterprises that provide goods and services to the Cuban people. Law enforcement cooperation will ensure that authorized commerce and authorized travelers move rapidly between the United States and Cuba. Although we recognize the priority given to state-owned enterprises in the Cuban model, we seek to encourage reforms that align these entities with international norms, especially transparency.

    United States regulatory changes have created space for the Cuban government to introduce comparable changes. In tandem with the Department of the Treasury’s regulatory change to expand Cuba’s access to the U.S. financial system and U.S. dollar transit accounts, the Cuban government announced in early 2016 plans to eliminate the 10 percent penalty on U.S. dollar conversion transactions, subject to improved access to the international banking system. We will sustain private and public efforts to explain our regulatory changes to U.S. firms and banks, Cuban entrepreneurs, and the Cuban government.

    4. Economic Reform

    While the Cuban government pursues its economic goals based on its national priorities, we will utilize our expanded cooperation to support further economic reforms by the Cuban government. Recent exchanges among financial service institutions and regulators have provided greater mutual understanding of our respective financial system and economic priorities. We will undertake government-to-government dialogues to discuss options for macro- and microeconomic reform, with the goal of connecting the changes in U.S. policy with Cuban reforms in a manner that creates opportunity for U.S. firms and the Cuban people.

    If and when the Congress lifts the embargo, my Administration will engage with the Congress and stakeholders on preparatory commercial and economic exchanges and dialogues. My Administration would then similarly engage the Congress on the substance and timing of a new bilateral commercial agreement to address remaining statutory trade requirements.

    5. Respect for Universal Human Rights, Fundamental Freedoms, and Democratic Values

    We will not pursue regime change in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the United States cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people. We seek greater Cuban government respect for universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for every individual. Progress in this area will have a positive impact on the other objectives. We will encourage the Cuban government to respect human rights; support Cuba’s emerging, broad-based civil society; and encourage partners and nongovernmental actors to join us in advocating for reforms. While remaining committed to supporting democratic activists as we do around the world, we will also engage community leaders, bloggers, activists, and other social issue leaders who can contribute to Cuba’s internal dialogue on civic participation. We will continue to pursue engagements with civil society through the U.S. Embassy in Havana and during official United States Government visits to Cuba. We will seek to institutionalize a regular human rights dialogue with the Cuban government to advance progress on human rights. We will pursue democracy programming that is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies around the world. We will utilize our increased ability to engage regional partners, both bilaterally and through regional bodies, to encourage respect for human rights in Cuba. We will consult with nongovernmental actors such as the Catholic Church and other religious institutions. Finally, we will work with the European Union and likeminded international organizations and countries to encourage the Cuban government to respect universal values.

    6. Cuban Integration into International and Regional Systems

    We will expand dialogue with Cuba in the organizations in which it already holds membership, such as the WTO and the World Customs Organization (WCO), and we will encourage Cuba to move toward rules-based engagement, subject to statutory requirements. We will encourage Cuba to bring its legal framework, particularly its commercial law, in line with international standards. We will encourage Cuba to meet WCO standards for supply chain security. To the extent permitted by and consistent with applicable law, we will facilitate integration into international bodies, including through the use of technical assistance programs. We will pursue cooperation with Cuba on regional and global issues (e.g., combating the Ebola outbreak and the Colombia peace process). Ending the embargo and satisfying other statutory requirements relating to trade will allow the United States to normalize trade relations with Cuba.

    VI. Policy Implementation

    1. Roles and Responsibilities

    To facilitate the effective implementation of this directive, departments and agencies will have the following roles and responsibilities, consistent with the relevant legal authorities and limits:

    The National Security Council (NSC) staff will provide ongoing policy coordination and oversight of the implementation of this PPD and the overall Cuba strategy as necessary.

    The Department of State will continue to be responsible for formulation of U.S. policy toward and coordination of relations with Cuba. This includes supporting the operations of Embassy Havana and ensuring it has adequate resources and staffing. Other responsibilities include the issuance of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas, refugee processing, promotion of educational and cultural exchanges, coordination of democracy programs, and political and economic reporting. State will continue to lead the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission and coordinate a number of dialogues, such as the Law Enforcement Dialogue, annual migration talks, and meetings to resolve outstanding claims.

    State will continue to co-lead efforts with the U.S. Agency for International Development to ensure democracy programming is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies. State will coordinate efforts to advance science and technology cooperation with Cuba. State will support telecommunications and internet access growth in Cuba and provide foreign policy guidance to the Departments of Commerce and the Treasury on certain exports, financial transactions, and other license applications.

    The U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN), in coordination with State, will oversee multilateral issues involving Cuba at the United Nations. USUN will identify areas of possible collaboration with Cuba that could help foster a more collaborative relationship between the United States and Cuba at the United Nations. The USUN will also participate in discussions regarding the annual Cuban embargo resolution at the United Nations, as our bilateral relationship continues to develop in a positive trajectory.

    The Department of the Treasury is responsible for implementation of the economic embargo restrictions and licensing policies. The Treasury will continue its outreach to help the public, businesses, and financial institutions understand the regulatory changes. The Treasury will continue to review and respond to public questions and feedback on regulations and public guidance that could be further clarified and to discuss with State any novel license requests that the Treasury receives from the public to determine whether such requests are consistent with the regulatory changes and existing law. The Treasury will make use of available channels for bilateral dialogue to understand Cuba’s economic and financial system and encourage reforms and will continue to engage in dialogue with the Cuban government about our regulatory changes.

    The Department of Commerce will continue to support the development of the Cuban private sector, entrepreneurship, commercial law development, and intellectual property rights as well as environmental protection and storm prediction. If statutory restrictions are lifted, Commerce will promote increased trade with Cuba by providing export assistance to U.S. companies. In the meantime, Commerce will continue a robust outreach effort to ensure that U.S. companies understand that U.S. regulatory changes provide new opportunities to obtain licenses or use license exceptions to increase authorized exports to Cuba, including to Cuban state-owned enterprises that provide goods and services to meet the needs of the Cuban people. Additionally, Commerce will continue to engage in dialogue with the Cuban government about our regulatory changes, as well as the need for simplification of the Cuban import process, transparency in Cuban business regulations, and other steps that will lead to full realization of the benefits of our regulatory changes.

    The Department of Defense (DOD) will continue to take steps to expand the defense relationship with Cuba where it will advance U.S. interests, with an initial focus on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and counternarcotics in the Caribbean. The DOD will support Cuba’s inclusion in the inter-American defense system and regional security and defense conferences, which will give Cuba a stake in hemispheric stability. The DOD will continue to make contingency preparations and support the capacity of the Department of Homeland Security and State to address mass migration and maritime migration issues pursuant to Executive Orders 12807 and 13276 and consistent with other applicable interagency guidance and strategy.

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will engage, together with the Department of Justice, with the Cuban government to combat terrorism and transnational organized crime. In support of U.S. security and foreign policy objectives, DHS will develop protocols for investigative cooperation with Cuba in coordination with other departments and agencies. The DHS will strengthen the security and efficiency of cross-border supply chains and travel systems in support of people-to-people engagement and authorized U.S. trade with the Cuban private sector. The DHS will safeguard the integrity of the U.S. immigration system, to include the facilitation of lawful immigration and ensure protection of refugees. The Secretary of Homeland Security, the United States Government lead for a maritime migration or mass migration, with support from the Secretaries of State and Defense, will address a maritime migration or mass migration pursuant to Executive Orders 12807 and 13276 and consistent with applicable interagency guidance and strategy.

    The Department of Justice (DOJ) will engage, together with DHS, with the Cuban government to combat terrorism and transnational organized crime. The DOJ will work with Cuba to expand security and law enforcement cooperation, increase information sharing, and share best practices with Cuban counterparts. This work will build upon, and strengthen, current law enforcement cooperation with Cuba under the umbrella of the U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Dialogue and its various working groups, which focus on counterterrorism, counternarcotics, cybercrime, human trafficking, and other areas of criminal activity.

    The Small Business Administration (SBA) will continue to engage with the Cuban government, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and cooperative enterprises. The SBA will support exchanges with the Cuban government in areas of mutual interest, particularly on formalization of small businesses and to spur the growth of new enterprises.

    The Office of the United States Trade Representative will provide trade policy coordination in international fora and, consistent with statutory requirements and restrictions, prepare for negotiations to normalize and expand U.S.-Cuba trade.

    The Department of Agriculture (USDA) will work to increase U.S. food and agricultural exports to Cuba by building market opportunities, improving the competitive position of U.S. agriculture, and building Cuba’s food security and agricultural capacity, while protecting plant, animal, and human health. USDA will work with the Government of Cuba to advance cooperation outlined in the U.S.-Cuba agricultural memorandum of understanding signed in March 2016. The USDA will build the U.S.-Cuba trade and development relationship to the extent permitted by and consistent with applicable law.

    The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in accordance with the June 2016 memorandum of understanding between HHS and the Ministry of Public Health of the Republic of Cuba, will collaborate with Cuban counterparts in the areas of public health, research, and biomedical sciences, including collaboration to confront the Zika virus, dengue, chikungunya, and other arboviruses. The HHS will promote joint work, such as development of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics; partner with Cuba to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks; collaborate in the field of cancer control, treatment programs, and joint research; and exchange best practices related to access to healthcare.

    The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will coordinate with departments and agencies the United States Government’s response to unplanned environmental occurrences, such as natural or manmade disasters. The USAID will co-lead efforts with State to ensure that democracy programming is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies.

    The Department of Transportation (DOT) will continue to develop air and surface transportation links between the United States and Cuba in support of transportation providers, authorized travelers, and commerce, while providing required regulatory and safety oversight of transportation providers and systems.

    The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will support broader United States Government efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, with Intelligence Community elements working to find opportunities for engagement on areas of common interest through which we could exchange information on mutual threats with Cuban counterparts.

    The Department of the Interior (DOI) will continue cooperation with Cuba on marine protected areas and continue to engage Cuban counterparts to finalize arrangements on wildlife conservation, terrestrial national protected areas, and seismic records.

    2. Congressional Outreach

    Strong support in the Congress for U.S.-Cuba normalization would contribute to the speed and success of the aforementioned goals, particularly with respect to the embargo and adequate embassy staffing. We will seek to build support in the Congress to lift the embargo and other statutory constraints to enable expanded travel and commerce with Cuba and accelerate normalization. We will regularly engage with Members of Congress and staff on challenges and opportunities in Cuba, advocate for United States Government policies and sufficient staff and resources to implement the aforementioned goals and policy priorities, and encourage and facilitate congressional travel to the region.

    3. Monitoring and Oversight

    The Interagency Policy Committee (IPC), or its future equivalent, will have primary responsibility for coordinating and overseeing the implementation of this policy. The NSC staff will convene regular IPC and Deputies Committee meetings as necessary to monitor implementation and resolve obstacles to progress. The following departments and agencies will designate senior individuals responsible for managing policy implementation in their agency: State, the Treasury, Commerce, DOD (Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff), DHS, DOJ, USDA, HHS, DOT, USUN, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, USAID, SBA, and DNI.

    4. Previous Guidance

    Executive Order 13276, Delegation of Responsibilities Concerning Undocumented Aliens Interdicted or Intercepted in the Caribbean Region, dated November 15, 2002, and Executive Order 12807, Interdiction of Illegal Aliens, dated May 24, 1992, remain in effect.


    Operation to Liberate Mosul Takes the Life of a U.S. Servicemember


    The special forces backed by attack helicopters fought their way into the town of Bartella, where IS militants unleashed at least nine suicide truck bombs. Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati said the special forces retook Bartella, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the edge of Mosul. But Iraqi forces were facing stiff resistance inside the town shortly before he spoke.

    The U.S. trained special forces are Iraq’s most highly trained and least sectarian fighters, and will lead the charge into Mosul.

    Kurdish peshmerga forces also announced a “large-scale operation,” and peshmerga forces stationed on mountains northeast of Mosul descended from their positions and charged toward the front line. Military operations also appeared to be underway in the town of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, which was pounded by airstrikes and peshmerga mortars the day before. More here.


    Stripes: WASHINGTON— A U.S. servicemember died Thursday after being wounded by an improvised explosive device in northern Iraq, according to a statement by the military’s Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve.

    A U.S. Army M109A6 Paladin conducts a fire mission at Qayyarah West, Iraq, in support of the Iraqi security forces’ push toward Mosul, Oct. 17, 2016. Christopher Brecht/U.S. Army

    The command did not identify the servicemember or immediately provide any additional information about the death, which coincides with a joint U.S. operation to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group. As many as 200 special operators were embedded with Iraqi and Kurdish units this week moving to the front lines of the battle, the Pentagon has said.

    A total of about 4,800 troops are in Iraq assisting in the mission to liberate Mosul and its roughly 1 million inhabitants. The death announcement comes a day after two Americans – one a U.S. servicemember – were killed in Afghanistan in an apparent insider attack.

    Earlier this week, the Pentagon said the embedded U.S. forces in northern Iraq were advancing to the last secure areas on the outskirts of Mosul as Iraqi and Kurdish forces wage a long-awaited offensive that could continue for weeks or months.

    Iraq has about 18,000 troops moving on the city and the Kurdish peshmerga forces number about 10,000, according to Pentagon estimates.

    Many U.S. troops were providing air support including nighttime raids by Apache helicopters, artillery bombardment, intelligence and forward air controllers who relay target information from Iraqi forces, according to the joint task force.

    A Pentagon spokesman said troops were all operating behind the front lines of the conflict, which is the biggest offensive against the Islamic State group since it was defeated and pushed from Ramadi in western Iraq in December. The extremist group seized Mosul, which was Iraq’s second largest city, after a lightning assault from Syria in 2014.

    Meanwhile, the Pentagon was looking into what could have been the first insider attack this year in Afghanistan.

    On Wednesday, an assailant reportedly dressed in an Afghan National Army uniform killed an unidentified U.S. servicemember and an American civilian who were working on a NATO mission to train local forces at Camp Morehead in Kabul. Another servicemember and two civilians were also injured.

    The assailant was killed during the attack.


    Back to Baghdad and who is leading the fight to liberate Mosul:

    Baghdad’s Finest: A look at Iraq’s vaunted special forces

    WT/BAGHDAD (AP)Iraq’s special forces, which barreled into a town east of Mosul on Thursday despite a wave of suicide attacks, are the country’s most professional and least sectarian fighting force.

    A member of Iraq’s elite counterterrorism forces pauses as they advance towards the city of Mosul, Iraq, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. Iraq’s special forces, which barreled into a town east of Mosul on Thursday despite a wave of suicide attacks, are the country’s most professional and least sectarian fighting force. Officially known as the Counter Terrorism Service, the troops have played a key role in wresting back towns and cities from IS, and are expected to lead the charge in Mosul. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

    Officially known as the Counter Terrorism Service, the U.S. trained troops have played a key role in wresting back towns and cities from IS, and are expected to lead the charge in Mosul, their toughest battle yet.

    Here is a look at Iraq’s special forces:


    The CTS was established by the American military shortly after the 2003 invasion as an elite commando unit charged with hunting down top insurgents and carrying out complex raids. They were trained, armed and supplied by U.S. Special Forces, who fought alongside them at the height of the insurgency.

    The force proved to be a more reliable partner to the Americans than the mainstream security forces, where corruption was rife and many units were tied to parties or militias. But many Iraqis saw the special forces as the shock troops of an occupying power, and took to referring to them as the “Dirty Division.”


    The force grew in size over the years and expanded beyond its commando roots, with some taking part in conventional battles and even mundane tasks like manning checkpoints. Today they number around 12,000 men, including administrators, and up to 2,600 are taking part in the Mosul operation.

    The unit was never incorporated into the Defense Ministry and answers directly to the prime minister. In the latter years of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s rule, many feared the special forces had become a praetorian guard that would cement his grip on power, but those fears were laid to rest when al-Maliki peacefully stepped down in 2014.


    When the Islamic State group swept across northern and central Iraq in 2014, Iraq’s security forces crumbled. Officers fled and their soldiers beat a humiliating retreat, many stripping off their uniforms and leaving their weapons and Humvees behind.

    But not the special forces, who held their ground and became a source of national pride.

    The CTS “retained its organizational cohesion and structure in 2014 when many other units of the Iraqi army fell apart,” said David M. Witty, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces colonel and former adviser to the CTS. “The key leaders of CTS have become central figures in the Iraqi public’s perception of the campaign to destroy IS.”

    “Dirty” no more, the 1st Brigade is now widely known as the “Golden Division.”


    The CTS was designed to be a non-sectarian force, with Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish members who were strictly vetted to ensure they had no ties to political factions or militias. In the early years, the force mainly battled Sunni insurgents, but it also played a lead role in a 2008 offensive against Shiite militias. Maj. Gen. Fadhil al-Barwari, who leads the Golden Brigade, is a Kurd.

    The force also has a better human rights record than most of the other participants in the Mosul Offensive. An Amnesty International report released this week documenting abuses in Anbar mainly focused on state-sanctioned Shiite militias, and included only passing mention of the CTS.


    The special forces launched their first assault in the Mosul operation early Thursday, pushing into the town of Bartella with the aid of attack helicopters despite stiff resistance from IS, which unleashed nine suicide truck bombs, one of which struck an armored Humvee. The rest were destroyed before hitting their targets.

    “We will lead the charge into Mosul as we are specialized in the battles in urban areas and guerrilla war,” said special forces Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil. “We are trained to break into towns and cities with fewer casualties.”

    The special forces are expected to help drive IS out of Mosul in the coming weeks or months. But they can’t police the country, and will eventually have to hand things off to Iraq’s army and police, as well as Shiite militias and Sunni tribal fighters. It will be left to them to ensure that IS, which has recovered from past defeats, does not return.


    Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Bartella, Iraq contributed to this report.

    JCS: Ret. General Cartwright, Pled Guilty, Charges Like Those on Hillary

    Early negotiations revealed that General Cartwright would not serve more than 6 months in jail if that is applied in sentencing and up to a $250,000 fine. Now per the FBI release, read the words carefully as they do demonstrate a breach of protection of classified material in this case relating to Stuxnet which was the computer code used to infect the Iranian nuclear program.

    Additionally, this also demonstrates how the FBI took years for this comprehensive investigation which was unlike that of what was applied to Hillary Clinton and her violation of essentially the same non-disclosure and lack of protection to top secret data and material.


    Department of Justice

    Monday, October 17, 2016

    Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Pleads Guilty to Federal Felony in Leak Investigation

    Retired General James E. Cartwright, 67, of Gainesville, Virginia, pleaded guilty to making false statements in connection with the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. The guilty plea was entered in the District of Columbia.

    The announcement was made by Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary B. McCord, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein for the District of Maryland and Assistant Director in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

    “General Cartwright violated the trust that was placed in him by willfully providing information that could endanger national security to individuals not authorized to receive it and then lying to the FBI about his actions,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord. “With this plea, he will be held accountable.”

    “People who gain access to classified information after promising not to disclose it must be held accountable when they willfully violate that promise,” said U.S. Attorney Rosenstein. “We conducted a thorough and independent investigation included collecting tens of thousands of documents through subpoenas, search warrants and document requests, and interviewing scores of current and former government employees. The evidence showed that General Cartwright disclosed classified information without authorization to two reporters and lied to federal investigators. As a result, he stands convicted of a federal felony offense and faces a potential prison sentence.”

    “Today, General Cartwright admitted to making false statements to the FBI concerning multiple unauthorized disclosures of classified information that he made to reporters,” said Assistant Director in Charge Abbate. “This was a careful, rigorous, and thorough multi-year investigation by special agents who, together with federal prosecutors, conducted numerous interviews, to including Cartwright. The FBI will continue to take all necessary and appropriate steps to thoroughly investigate individuals, no matter their position, who undermine the integrity of our justice system by lying to federal investigators.”

    According to his plea agreement, Cartwright is a retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general who served as the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Aug. 31, 2007, to Aug. 3, 2011, and as Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command from 2004 to 2007. During that time, Cartwright held a top secret security clearance with access to sensitive compartmented information (SCI).

    Cartwright signed more than 36 non-disclosure agreements related to Department of Defense programs. The forms explain that the recipient is obligated by law and regulation not to disclose classified information without authorization. The forms also contain warnings that any breach of the agreement may violate federal criminal law. In addition, Cartwright received annual training about handling classified information.

    On Sept. 1, 2011, Cartwright retired from the U.S. Marine Corps. Upon his retirement, Cartwright maintained his top secret clearance. The clearance enabled him to engage in consulting and private employment, including sitting on a special committee of the board of directors of a defense contractor, which oversaw the company’s classified U.S. government contracts.

    At the time of his retirement, Cartwright again signed a “Classified Information Non-Disclosure Agreement,” which included warnings “that unauthorized disclosure…by me could cause damage or irreparable injury to the United States or could be used to advantage by a foreign nation.”

    Between January and June 2012, Cartwright disclosed classified information to two reporters without authorization. Some of the information disclosed to the reporters was classified at the top secret level. Each reporter included the classified information in published articles. In addition, the classified information that Cartwright communicated to one reporter was included in a book.

    FBI agents interviewed Cartwright on Nov. 2, 2012. During the interview, Cartwright gave false information to the interviewing agents, including falsely stating that he did not provide or confirm classified information to the first reporter and was not the source of any of the quotes and statements in that reporter’s book. In addition, Cartwright falsely stated that he had never discussed a particular country with the second reporter, when in fact, Cartwright had confirmed classified information about that country in an email to the reporter.

    Cartwright faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for making false statements to federal investigators. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. The sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon has scheduled sentencing for January 17, 2017.

    Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord and U.S. Attorney Rosenstein commended the FBI for its work in the investigation and thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo J. Wise and Deborah A. Johnston of the District of Maryland, Trial Attorney Elizabeth Cannon of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section and National Security Chief Harvey Eisenberg of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who are handling the prosecution.

    Counterintelligence and Export Control
    National Security