U.S. Marines step up on-ground target development near Mosul

by WorldTribune Staff, September 6, 2016

U.S. Marines on the ground in Iraq are increasing efforts to gather intelligence on Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) fighters and equipment to assist Iraqi forces in an operation to retake Mosul by year’s end.

The Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Central Command is providing “intelligence surge support,” developing from one to six or more targets in a given week, task force commander Col. Kenneth Kassner told Military.com.

U.S. Marines with the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa load into an V-22 Osprey. /Krystal Ardrey/U.S. Air Force
U.S. Marines with the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force load into a V-22 Osprey. /Krystal Ardrey/U.S. Air Force

Kassner said the unit, which deploys in six-month rotations, was created in 2014 as a contingency force for the region. The 2,300-strong unit is based in six countries and on standby for operations in 20, but operations in support of the fight against ISIL are now dominating its responsibilities.

“We have a very robust intelligence capability here in the [Marine air-ground task force] and what that enables us to do is, my intelligence analysts are able to better assess targets in support of the Iraqis’ ground maneuver,” Kassner said. “And once we develop that target, we’re looking for different types of patterns of analysis associated with that target.”

Marine F/A-18D Hornets with the unit have conducted more than 1,500 sorties against ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria.

Kassner said the unit also continues to keep its squadron of MV-22 Ospreys at the ready for tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel (TRAP) missions in support of the coalition’s fight against ISIL.

While the task force has not been called to recover downed coalition aircraft or personnel since Ospreys deployed to recover an Air Force MQ-1 Predator drone in southern Iraq last June, Kassner told Military.com the unit has forward-positioned aircraft at the ready in support of coalition strikes multiple times.

“Every minute is precious when conducting a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel,” he said.