Exclusive: See The Suicide Tractors And DIY Rounds ISIS Lost In Mosul

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Vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, seized during an Iraqi Security Forces operation in Mosul, Iraq, arrive at a nearby ISF base on May 21, 2017.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brandon L. Rizzo

The grueling ground offensive against the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq, is entering its final stage. The last few neighborhoods held by ISIS — approximately five square miles of snaking alleyways and narrow city streets — are expected to be the most difficult to retake for the U.S.-backed Iraqi Security Forces.


The ISIS fighters still in Mosul — estimated to number a few hundred — are left with what they have in the city: a parade of stitched-together technicals, car and truck-bombs, and various improvised weapon systems. Earlier this month, the 9th Iraqi Army Division conducted a clearing operation in the northwestern part of the city; and in the process, they raided ammo and supply caches left behind by dead or fleeing Islamic State fighters.

Related: Battle Of Mosul Veterans Reflect On Ongoing Offensive »

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brandon L. Rizzo

Vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices arrive at an Iraqi security force’s base near Mosul, Iraq, May 21, 2017.

Task & Purpose reached out to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, which is partnered with the 9th IAD, to ask about the ISIS gear the Iraqi troops recovered, how these weapons are used by the Islamic State, and how effective they are. It’s through these brief glimpses of ISIS’s armory that we can get a sense of the militant group’s power in Mosul, or what remains of it.

The Islamic State is making its own ammo. It’s not very good.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Timothy Irish

Soldiers from the 9th Iraqi Armored Division walk past a captured Islamic State technical armed with a recoilless rifle as they stage ISIS improvised rocket launchers at a forward command post near Mosul, Iraq on May 9, 2017.

ISIS spent the last two years stockpiling ammunition and weapons. But with its supplies dwindling, its fighters have taken to making their own mortar rounds and rockets from spent shells and debris, Maj. Kevin Ryan, the intelligence officer for the 2/82nd, told Task & Purpose.

“What we find now is very much a hodgepodge of ammunition that’s left over from their fight in the East, and the things they were able to retrograde from that fight,” Ryan explained. “For the most part [in] the caches the ISF is recovering, the majority of that ammunition is shoddily made. They’re able to find scrap metal and create weapon systems and munitions from leftover pieces that may be available, that they find or repurpose. These caches are manufactured at a very low level of expertise and are pretty low grade.”

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Timothy Irish

An Iraqi army soldier displays an ISIS-built rocket launcher near Mosul, Iraq on May 5, 2017.

The reason is pretty simple: There aren’t many ISIS fighters left in Mosul with the level of expertise required to manufacture munitions — they’ve all been killed, or they fled, which has led to severe rationing among their fighters.

The lack of readily available ammo has a pretty direct impact on an ISIS fighter’s field tactics, Ryan said.

“He may go into a direct fire fight not loaded down too much,” he said. “He may take a chest rack into the fight with a couple AK clips, but he fights fairly close to a cache, so if he does need to reload, then he can move back to a cache.”

Without more mortars (or mortarmen), ISIS has little in the way of indirect fire.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Timothy Irish.

The Islamic State is so low on munitions they've started making their own — like this ISIS-made mortar — but with most of their experts and engineers dead or gone, it's not very good.

ISIS’s indirect fire has never been terribly accurate, and its mortar teams compensated by lobbing a high volume of largely indiscriminate IDF, which was once a significant threat to Iraqi and U.S. troops in Mosul. But now, the Islamic State’s indirect fire capabilities are shredded, according to Col. Patrick Work, the brigade commander for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

“At one point they had skilled mortarmen that were centrally controlled, but now it’s in shambles,” Work said. “The enemy’s indirect fires capability is decimated. It’s been a long time since it’s been a factor in battle.”

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Timothy Irish

A captured Islamic State weapon is staged in a cache for inventory and intelligence exploitation at a forward command post near Mosul, Iraq, on May 9, 2017.

By no means has the effectiveness of ISIS’ arsenal been utterly degraded. They are still fielding a wide range of deadly weapons against the Iraqi army, and the biggest threat comes from suicide bombs and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.

ISIS’ weapon of choice in Mosul: up-armored suicide trucks (and tractors).

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brandon L. Rizzo

A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device arrives at an Iraqi security force’s base near Mosul, Iraq, May 21, 2017.

ISIS’ “precision-guided weapon is the suicide bomb,” Work said. “It does have some military expertise when it comes to engineering those weapons.”

The VBIEDs fielded by ISIS are a far cry from the car bombs seen during the height of the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, which relied on stealth and subterfuge, with insurgents packing an ordinary car or truck with explosives and parking it near a military compound or rolling up to a checkpoint before detonating. Many of ISIS’ “car bombs” are up-armored suicide trucks — or tractors — designed to steam toward their target before exploding.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brandon L. Rizzo.

Yeah, that's an up-armored suicide tractor that Iraqi Security Forces recovered in Mosul before it could be used.

To counter this threat, Work said the ISF have “adjusted tactics to where they have drill-like precision,” which involves setting up obstacles and overwatch, taking advantage of berms and cover, and countering approaching VBIEDS with anti-tank weapons. Iraqi troops have taken to using breaching-and-clearing vehicles, specifically bulldozers, to defend against approaching VBIEDs in Mosul, according to The Washington Post.

Rudimentary in nature, an improvised explosive device still requires a particular skill set to make, and it's not one that’s easy to replace after, say, your bombmakers get blown up by a drone-delivered Hellfire missile.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Timothy Irish

A captured ISIS suicide vest from a weapons cache awaits inventory and intelligence exploitation on May 9, 2017 at a forward command post near Mosul.

“The biggest thing he’s limited on right now are his experts — his engineers that were building these bombs to make them effective — those guys have been killed or fled the battlefield,” explained Ryan. “Also, as ISF takes terrain, it removes caches but it also removes the ability for [ISIS] to employ some of these suicide bombs that he’s prestaged, and sometimes the ISF overruns them and is able to recover these before they’ve been used.”

The majority of these bombs, Work said, “do not succeed in damaging their targets."

‘ISIS drones’ in Mosul are not a game-changer.

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull

It's not like they can just order replacement drones on Amazon.

The Islamic State uses drones for “standoff reconnaissance,” Work said, but the group has also modified some drones to deliver munitions, with mixed results.

The Islamic State also appears to use drones to monitor and track targets for its “precision-guided weapon” systems: suicide VBIEDs. In March, a video purportedly showing an ISIS suicide VBIED attack went viral — the size of the explosion, and its clarity, smacked of post-production and Adobe after-effects, as Adam Linehan of Task & Purpose noted — but what stands out is how a drone was used in the attack, not only to track potential targets, but to record the scene for propaganda purposes.

Islamic State fighters in Mosul are relying on a finite supply of commercially available drones. With supply lines cut off, it’s not like they can just order a quadcopter drone off of Amazon. Even if they could, according to the U.S. advisers near Mosul, the effectiveness of ISIS’ drones has been severely limited.

"At one point, this was a considerable threat to ISF,” Work said, but not so much now that the Iraqis have deployed a combination of counters and tactics, like using cover, concealment, and camouflage.

Also important, according to Work, is assigning air guards — who, “you know, simply look up.”

Once a drone is downed, Iraqi and coalition forces quickly gain an upper hand on their would-be attackers. “The Iraqis, when they knock down a drone or a drone falls out of the sky, they’ll recover it and they’ll share it with us and there’s some opportunity to exploit the automation,” Work said. “You know, there’s fingerprints inside of that thing, and we use it to understand the network and to attack these networks at the source.”

(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

Three U.S. service members received non-life-threatening injuries after being fired on Monday by an Afghan police officer, a U.S. official confirmed.

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

The top leaders of a Japan-based Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet squadron were fired after an investigation into a deadly mid-air collision last December found that poor training and an "unprofessional command climate" contributed to the crash that left six Marines dead, officials announced on Monday.

Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules and one Marine onboard an F/A-18D Hornet were killed in the Dec. 6, 2018 collision that took place about 200 miles off the Japanese coast. Another Marine aviator who was in the Hornet survived.

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A former Army soldier was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday for stealing weapons from Fort Bliss, along with other charges.

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(U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released an alarming report Friday showing that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, with little sign that the crisis is abating despite suicide prevention being the VA's top priority.

Although the total population of veterans declined by 18% during that span of years, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide annually, according to the VA's 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.

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