Transcript of interview about Tal Afar offensive with Lt Col Downing


Interview by Seth J. Frantzman

August 27th, 2017

I conducted an interview for coverage of the liberation of Tal Afar, one of two articles I wrote on the operations. Here is a full transcript.

What is your name and position?

Lt. Col James Downing, 82nd Airborne, commander 2nd battalion 325th, airborne infantry regiment, and he is the coalition advisor to the 15th Iraqi army division.

 Can we have a brief bio for our article?

82nd Airborne Public Affairs, advise assist, I arrived here in December 2016, and got a little while to go, this is my third tour here in Iraq; I passed the three year mark, first in 2004, next during the surge 2006-2008, and then this more recent one started in December.

Has Tal Afar been taken, we have heard the Iraqi security forces have liberated it?

More work to be done in and around TA, significant gains over past couple days, not complete, GOI has some things to accomplish, areas need some work, they are making good progress.

Can you describe the operation to take Tal Afar over the last week?

From coalition stand point we put a lot of energy into making sure that our partners understand all the capabilities we have that can help augment what they possess, the Iraqis have the maneuver and artillery and air force and attack helicopters continue to improve from previous campaigns, from our standpoint we just help them see themselves how each component, the Federal Police, CTS, and army can best serve their government and shape these fights, you can see we had a component of the city, the vast majority of the area cleared by army, they did phenomenal, out maneuvered enemy and took a number of places without firing a shot, how far they have come on the army side, just in their internal fighting jointly in our doctrine, their security forces and army all working together for country, Impressive to watch and our role is to help them see that, in cases where they don’t have precision fire then we do help them from intel standpoint, how we see the enemy, and inform their decisions as they conduct operations.

How do you explain the success and speed?

One thing to consider the coalition or ISF, neither was idle from Mosul to Tal Afar, we continue to do strikes, occurring when Mosul was happening, so its hard to put a number on fighters with any degree of accuracy or even post Mosul, we still have hard time identifying number of fighters or estimates,

Why was the operation so fast? They expected it would take longer?

I think they have learned and adapted and become better at this type of warfare since Mosul, similar characteristics to Mosul and differences, certainly the ability to use maneuver and have different options when attacking ISIS positions, what I have witnessed a marked improvement.

But how do you explain the lack of ISIS resistance?

Like I said there is work to be done, you have to look at Mosul what it was to ISIS and morale matter, Iraqis have a lot more confidence coming out and that is a big component of what is going on here, when the leadership and caliphate took a lot of loses and a lot run scared, don’t underestimate morale when it comes to this type of warfare and Iraqi morale is high and ISIS is low.

We have heard from sources that ISIS was trying to escape, can you comment?

There has been a little bit of that, you run into attrition through a lot of their fighters have quit, and have given up on the Caliphate, and some have tried to make their way out mixed with civilians and ISF did a phenomenal job trying to separate innocents from individuals from groups trying to leave under IDPS and some of that going on, that would account with some of the numbers and what you see from the outside perspective, a lot killed trying to flee in vehicles, it’s a combination of all those things, a lot lost the will to fight.

Are there other aspects that you’d like to discuss?

 From my standpoint its been an incredible and humbling experience for me as an advisor to these Iraqi security forces to be a small part of this victory and watch them fight on behalf of International Community and important fight in our eyes, good friends with Iraqi partners and different than anything I’d particapting in, these leaders have been targeted here and at home, over past motnhs getting to know a lot of these leaders a lot of them and their families targeted, continue to persevere after non-stop conflict, humbling as a military professional, my heart goes out to them and all the losses for the Iraqi.

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