Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.
Jeff Danziger’s award-winning drawings are published by more than 600 newspapers and websites. He has been a cartoonist for theRutland Herald, the New York Daily News and the Christian Science Monitor; his work has appeared in newspapers from theWall Street Journal to Le Monde and Izvestia. Represented by the Washington Post Writers Group, he is a recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army as a linguist and intelligence officer in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. Danziger has published ten books of cartoons and a novel about the Vietnam War. He was born in New York City, and now lives in Manhattan and Vermont. A video of the artist at work can be viewed here.
EAST OF MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi forces will resume their push against Islamic State inside Mosul in the coming days, a U.S. battlefield commander said, in a new phase of the two-month-old operation that will see American troops deployed closer to the front line in the city.
The battle for Mosul, involving 100,000 Iraqi troops, members of the Kurdish security forces and Shi’ite militiamen, is the biggest ground operation in Iraq since the U.S invasion of 2003. The upcoming phase appears likely to give American troops their biggest combat role since they fulfilled President Barack Obama’s pledge to withdraw from Iraq in 2011.
Elite Iraqi soldiers have retaken a quarter of Mosul, the jihadists’ last major stronghold in Iraq, but their advance has been slow and punishing. They entered a planned “operational refit” this month, the first significant pause of the campaign.
A heavily armoured unit of several thousand federal police was redeployed from the southern outskirts two weeks ago to reinforce the eastern front after army units advised by the Americans suffered heavy losses in an Islamic State counter-attack.
U.S. advisers, part of an international coalition that has conducted thousands of air strikes and trained tens of thousands of Iraqi ground troops, will work directly with those forces and an elite Interior Ministry strike force.
“Right now we’re staging really for the next phase of the attack as we start the penetration into the interior of east Mosul,” Lieutenant Colonel Stuart James, commander of a combat arms battalion assisting Iraqi security forces on the southeastern front, said in a Reuters interview late on Sunday.
“So right now, positioning forces and positioning men and equipment into the interior of east Mosul… it’s going to happen in the next several days.”
That will put U.S. troops inside of Mosul proper and at greater risk, though James said the danger level was still characterized as “moderate”. Three U.S. servicemen have been killed in northern Iraq in the past 15 months.
James, speaking from an austere outpost east of Mosul where several hundred U.S. troops are stationed, said the pace of the upcoming phase on the eastern side would depend on resistance from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh.
“If we achieve great success on the first day and we gain momentum, then it may go very quickly. If Daesh fights very hard the first day and we run into a roadblock and we have to go back and go, OK that was not the correct point of penetration, it may take longer,” he said.
Further integration with the Iraqi troops – to what commanders described as an unprecedented level for conventional U.S. forces – will help synchronize surveillance, air support and force movement, according to James.
“It increases our situational understanding. The man on the ground knows what’s going on best,” he said. “It’s just better when they’re on the ground talking to each other and saying, ‘Hey, have you looked at that area over there? That’s decisive terrain. Have you thought about putting forces there?'”
Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State anywhere across its once vast territorial holdings in Iraq and neighboring Syria, has been held by the group since its fighters drove the U.S.-trained army out in June 2014.
Its fall would probably end Islamic State’s ambition to rule over millions of people in a self-styled caliphate, but the fighters could still mount a traditional insurgency in Iraq, and plot or inspire attacks on the West.
A multi-ethnic city where up to 1.5 million people of a pre-war population of around 2 million are still thought to be living, Mosul is divided roughly in half by the Tigris River. The western section, which Iraqi forces have yet to penetrate, has built-up markets and ancient narrow alleyways which will complicate future advances.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had said he would win Mosul back by the end of this year, a deadline now certain to be missed. His commanders say their advance was held up by the need to protect civilians, fewer of whom fled than initially expected.
Inclement weather has repeatedly delayed ground advances which rely heavily on aerial surveillance and air strikes.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; editing by Peter Graff)
IMAGE: U.S. soldiers gather near military vehicles at an army base in Karamless town, east of Mosul, Iraq, December 25, 2016. Picture taken December 25, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
EAST OF MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – This is the third Christmas that Staff Sergeant Magdiel Asencio is spending in Iraq. For Sergeant First Class Noel Alvarado, it is number four. And so it is with many U.S. troops stationed less than a hour’s drive from the front line with Islamic State.
Few thought they would be back nearly 14 years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, sparking an al Qaeda-backed insurgency and throwing the country into a sectarian civil war.
Yet here they are, albeit with a fraction of the numbers and a much narrower mission. The roughly 5,200 U.S. troops presently stationed in Iraq are part of an international coalition helping local forces retake the third of their country seized by Islamic State more than two and a half years ago.
Their current target is Mosul, the jihadists’ last major stronghold in the country. Iraqi forces control around a quarter of the city, but fierce counter-attacks have rendered progress slow and punishing.
Asencio served in Mosul during the initial invasion, first to provide artillery support and then as infantry.
“It was more of a wild wild west then. We didn’t know if something was going to go down and when they needed you to call for fires,” he said, standing beside a field artillery unit that hits Islamic State targets inside Mosul nearly every day.
“It’s a little more calm this time around. We still shoot, we know we’re here in support of the Iraqi army. There’s still enemy out there but we’re not as into actual direct combat as we were back then.”
Many battalion commanders previously served multiple tours in Iraq, often punctuated by combat in Afghanistan. There are even some soldiers in their first tour here whose fathers missed Christmases with them a decade ago to be in Iraq.
“I thought back in 2011 when we closed it all out, it was going to be finalized then,” said Alvarado, referring to the withdrawal of U.S. troops that year.
“But being back here is totally different. I’ve seen [the Iraqi army] pick themselves up a lot. They have a better standard now.”
The Iraqi military and police dropped their weapons and fled in 2014 in the face of Islamic State’s assault, despite far superior numbers and billions of dollars in U.S. training and equipment.
The coalition has retrained tens of thousands of local troops in the past two years and provides advice on military strategy and planning, as well as artillery support and air strikes that are indispensable to the war against Islamic State.
“Anything we can do to assist them in their operation forward with us not actually squeezing the trigger,” said Lieutenant Colonel Stuart James. “So we’ll move forward with them, but we’re not the ones that make contact.”
A top commander told Reuters that U.S. forces were embedding more extensively with Iraqi troops in order to accelerate the Mosul campaign, which started on October. 17.
Coalition advisors were initially concentrated at a high-level headquarters in Baghdad but have fanned out over the past two years to spartan outposts like this one about 15 kilometers east of Mosul to stay near advancing troops.
“Merry Christmas from the most forward TAA at the tip of the spear,” James said, using a military acronym for the compound.
The austere outpost nestled in an ancient Christian region has few permanent structures, since the troops plan to move on when the Iraqi forces they are advising advance.
Heavy rain turned much of the grounds into thick mud on Sunday as soldiers huddled inside two dining tents for a special holiday meal where a plastic Christmas tree and a Santa Claus figurine flanked one entrance.
Outside, a soldier in a Santa hat did pull-ups at a makeshift gym.
This is a far cry from the luxurious facilities at the sprawling compound the U.S. military once maintained inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone and other big bases that have since been handed over to the Iraqis.
Yet Alvarado is not too torn up about spending another Christmas away from home.
“As long as my troops are OK and my family back home they’re OK and we’re supporting that, then I’m fine with it,” he said.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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