AL ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq, –
Installation security is of the utmost importance in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, enabling Iraqi and coalition forces to maneuver freely and bring the fight to wherever the enemy hides.
Soldiers with the Fort Wainwright, Alaska-based 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, are regularly conducting patrols and security operations around the perimeter of Al Asad Airbase in western Iraq with their Iraqi Army counterparts. The patrols serve as a deterrence and reinforce the security partnership between the two nations.
“We’re providing our coalition partners and also other units in our military to go out securely, so they don’t have to watch their back,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Bach, a squad leader from Harvard, Illinois. “We’re watching for them.”
Although coalition force soldiers guard their portion of the installation, Iraq’s military is responsible for the lion’s share of the base’s security. U.S. Army Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, regularly conduct presence patrols around the outer edges of Al Asad to both act as a deterrent to potential aggressors, and also as a way to show their support for their Iraqi counterparts.
Al Asad is one of two U.S. military bases in Iraq that was targeted by the Iranian government with theater ballistic missile strikes in January in the wake of the death of Iranian Quds Force commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
“As long as we’re together, there’s nothing (to fear),” said Iraq Army Pfc. Baha’a Al-Abduly, through a linguist. “… we basically killed al-Baghdadi, which is great.”
Al Asad is the largest military airbase in Iraq and the second-largest airbase in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
“That’s why it’s so important for us to defend this piece of key terrain,” said 1st Lt. Justin Skinner, an infantry officer with the 25th from Palm Bay, Florida.
Iraqi, U.S. and coalition troops share responsibility for the security of the base.
“We keep building relations with the Iraqis and letting them know we’re here to support them,” said U.S. Army Cpl. Payton Smith, from Fredericksburg, Texas. “We’ve kind of stepped back from a more aggressive role into a more supportive role for the Iraqis- to help them defeat Daesh and do whatever we can to assist them.”
Building security cooperation takes time, but patience pays off.
“Whenever we go out there, they’re really happy to see us. Excited almost,” Bach said. “They’re happy to work with us.”
The security cooperation between Iraq and the U.S. enables Iraqi and coalition forces to continue the fight against ISIS throughout Iraq and Syria, where the militants continue to regroup and carry out attacks against the local populace.
“If we weren’t here, we wouldn’t be able to facilitate those fighter pilots going out or the drones,” said Bach said.
Not only do the patrols help bring the fight to ISIS, but they also serve as an opportunity for the Iraqis and Americans to break bread with each other.
“When we went out on a patrol two weeks ago, they gave us hot tea – chai,” Bach said. “They gave us some Iraqi cookies that were homemade. Super awesome. “
“They have always been very friendly,” Skinner said. “Very welcoming to us. Every single time we go out to these towers, they openly offer us time to sit down and talk. We drink Chai with them. We talk about everyday life.”
The hospitality enjoyed by U.S. troops here will pay off for the Iraqis in the long run.
“It’s not just them out there,” Skinner said. “It’s us here as well, defending this base. So, if anything did happen … we’re there to help back them up.”