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‘ISIS… They Were More Bold’: Marines Shed Light On Violent Mystery Deployment
The day-to-day ground truth for U.S. troops involved in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq has been shrouded in relative mystery. It’s been characterized by politicians and reporters as an “advise and assist” mission, in which American forces train and manage local troops, largely avoiding direct combat. But new information obtained by Business Insider’s Paul Szoldra shows that the men of one particularly cloistered Marine artillery battery were under near-constant threat of enemy attack, taking fire more than a dozen times during a two-and-half month stretch at Fire Base Bell in 2016.
Maj. David Palka, the commander of that unit — Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines — was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with “V” on May 1 for leading his Marines during the violent stretch in an austere and isolated artillery position near the front line in the fight against ISIS. Business Insider reconstructed much of the Marines’ activity from interviews with Palka and his subordinates, as well as from government documents.
Maj. David Palka led Battery E and Task Force Spartan through 67 days of forward deployed combat operations in the fight against ISIS. pic.twitter.com/kIXmw4XUGs
— U.S. Marines (@USMC) May 10, 2017
The Marines of Echo Battery were the first conventional U.S. ground troops to set up a semi-permanent artillery position when they dug themselves into the small outpost on March 12, 2016 — a watershed moment in a conflict that had been fought mainly from the skies, after American forces had withdrawn from Iraq in 2014. Their mission was to provide fire support to Kurdish and Iraqi security forces in the fight against Islamic State militants, Szoldra writes:
“The base was small and had no creature comforts, and troops dug holes where they would man their guns, fight, and sleep.
‘It was austere. There was the constant threat 24/7,’ Palka said. ‘My other deployments, you'd come back to a [forward operating base]. Or we'd remain on a FOB and shoot fire support in support of maneuver. We didn't have an adjacent unit to our left and our right. We were the only general-purpose ground force forward. There was no wire.’
The Pentagon tried to keep the presence of Marines in Iraq quiet, but those efforts were thwarted one week after Palka arrived.”
On March 19, the fire base was hit by rocket fire from roughly 15 miles away, according to Business Insider. The attack killed Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin and injured eight others. During the attack, an Army counter-battery radar site homed in on the enemy position, and from there Palka calmly directed the artillery fire, while assessing casualties and calling for medical evacuations.
The field artillery Marines had four M777A2 Howitzers at the base, which they used to zero in on enemy ISIS positions and decimate them, firing more than 2,000 rounds during 476 missions between mid-March and late May 2016, according to a Department of Defense news release.
On two other occasions, the base was subjected to coordinated attacks by ISIS fighters:
“I'd say that ISIS and the enemy that we encountered in Iraq this past time ... they were more bold — the fact that they would infiltrate the forward line of troops and attempt to engage a Marine element with foreign fighters," Palka said. "Their weaponry and their tactics were more advanced. They were more well-trained than any other force that my Marines had directly engaged on previous deployments.”
While Szoldra’s profile of Palka is interesting and compelling in its own right, it also illustrates how much the truth on the ground differs from the one presented in government press releases and shared across news wires.
It’s the stories from Marines on the front, the information they’ve gleaned about the fight they’re in, and the citations they’ve earned, that paint a more complete picture of a deeply complex operation — one that is still rooted in relative secrecy.
Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will retire as a chief petty officer now that President Donald Trump has restored his rank.
"Before the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, he had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor," a White House statement said.
"Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified."
The announcement that Gallagher is once again an E-7 effectively nullifies the Navy's entire effort to prosecute Gallagher for allegedly committing war crimes. It is also the culmination of Trump's support for the SEAL throughout the legal process.
On July 2, military jurors found Gallagher not guilty of premeditated murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter to death and opening fire at an old man and a young girl on separate occasions during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.
Trump orders dismissal of murder charge against former Green Beret accused of killing a suspected Taliban bomb maker
President Donald Trump has ended the decade-long saga of Maj. Matthew Golsteyn by ordering a murder charge against the former Green Beret dismissed with a full pardon.
The Army charged Golsteyn with murder in December 2018 after he repeatedly acknowledged that he killed an unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Golsteyn's charge sheet identifies the man as "Rasoul."
President Donald Trump has signed a full pardon for former 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had been convicted of murder for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men, two of whom were killed.
Lorance will now be released from the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he had been serving a 19-year sentence.
"He has served more than six years of a 19-year sentence he received. Many Americans have sought executive clemency for Lorance, including 124,000 people who have signed a petition to the White House, as well as several members of Congress," said a White House statement released Friday.
"The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted. For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history. As the President has stated, 'when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.'"
Additionally, Trump pardoned Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who was to go on trial for murder charges next year, and restored the rank of Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was found not guilty of murdering a wounded ISIS prisoner but convicted of taking an unauthorized photo with the corpse.
Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth first announced on Nov. 4 that the president was expected to intervene in the Lorance case was well as exonerate Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who has been charged with murder after he admitted to killing an unarmed Afghan man whom he believed was a Taliban bomb maker, and restore Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher's rank to E-7.
For the past week, members of Lorance's family and his legal team have been holding a constant vigil in Kansas anticipating his release, said Lorance's attorney Don Brown.
Now that he has been exonerated of committing a war crime, Lorance wants to return to active duty, Brown told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.
"He loves the Army," Brown said prior to the president's announcement. "He doesn't have any animosity. He's hoping that his case – and even his time at Leavenworth – can be used for good to deal with some issues regarding rules of engagement on a permanent basis so that our warfighters are better protected, so that we have stronger presumptions favoring warfighters and they aren't treated like criminals on the South Side of Chicago."
In the Starz documentary "Leavenworth," Lorance's platoon members discuss the series of events that took place on July 2, 2012, when the two Afghan men were killed during a patrol in Kandahar province.They claim that Lorance ordered one of his soldiers to fire at three Afghan men riding a motorcycle. The three men got off their motorcycle and started walking toward Afghan troops, who ordered them to return to their motorcycle.
At that point, Lorance ordered the turret gunner on a nearby Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle to shoot the three men, according to the documentary. That order was initially ignored, but the turret gunner eventually opened fire with his M-240, killing two of the men.
But Lorance told the documentary makers that his former soldiers' account of what happened was "ill-informed."
"From my experience of what actually went down, when my guy fired at it, and it kept coming, that signified hostile intent, because he didn't stop immediately," Lorance said in the documentary's second episode.
Brown argues that not only is Lorance innocent of murder, he should never have been prosecuted in the first case.
"He made a call and when you look at the evidence itself, the call was made within a matter of seconds," Brown said "He would make that call again."
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