It was late August 2014.
I was one of the handful of American military forces in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital. Only a few months before, ISIS laid siege to vast sprawls of northern Iraq and northeastern Syria. As part of the 300 special operations troops sent in by President Obama, I was the senior joint terminal attack controller for the task force in Baghdad. I would soon help establish the strike cell that coordinated the first airstrikes against ISIS in central Iraq.
Initially, the U.S. mission in Iraq was limited: Prevent ISIS from taking Baghdad, threatening the U.S. Embassy, or approaching northern Iraq’s Kurdish capital of Irbil. But once we realized the horrendous scale of the ISIS reign of terror, and the level of strength and sophistication they had militarily, we could no longer turn a blind eye. When it was clear that the Iraqis and Kurds could not stop ISIS alone, we were given the mission to stop the ISIS juggernaut.