Military


Golden Division / Golden Brigade

Iraqi National Counter-Terrorism Force (INCTF) The Golden Division is a common name for the 1st Special Operations Brigade, a US-trained elite unit leading the charge against Daesh in Iraq. On 17 October 2016, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi launched the operation to retake Mosul from Daesh. The operation began with 4,000 Peshmerga fighters and 30,000 Iraqi soldiers backed by the US-led coalition.

The Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF), more commonly known as the Golden Division, fought inside Iraq's second-biggest city since o1 November 2016. The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service has liberated from Daesh militants over 600,000 residents in 25 districts of the city of Mosul, the service's commander Lt. Gen. Abdel Ghani Asadi said 28 November 2016. He added that Iraqi special operations troops have killed about 1,000 Daesh terrorists since the start of the operation.

"According to our intelligence data, there are up to 6,000 Daesh terrorists in the city. But I believe this figure has been exaggerated despite the fact that our Golden Division has eliminated 992 terrorists and wounded 56 more," Asadi said in an interview with RIA Novosti. "Tanks don't work here, artillery is not effective. Planes from the coalition force and the air force are restricted because of the civilians."

The battle for Mosul, which was captured by the IS group in 2014, was a gruelling struggle fought under tough conditions, largely because the city is heavily populated with civilians. But for the Golden Division, a unit of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, the offensive on Zahra marked just another day of intense fighting against the jihadists. The Golden Division led nearly every major battle against the IS group since the start of the country’s war against the militants.

Prime Minister Haider Abadi insisted that the elite unit, which is under his direct command, push ahead regardless of the progress made by the rest of the military. The Golden Division payed the price for being Iraq's most effective force. Commanders refused to discuss casualties, while a steady stream of Humvees delivered dead and wounded to a field hospital. By early December 2016 the unit was reported to have suffered 20 percent killed or wounded, typically the threshold for rendering a unit combat ineffective.

By December 2016 elite Iraqi troops of the "Golden Division", were the only brigades to have entered Mosul from the east. Iraqi army, federal police and Kurdish Peshmerga units surrounded the city to the north and south. Shi'ite militias were trying to complete the encirclement from the west.

Iraqi forces had failed to mount a concerted attack on Mosul. As ISOF troops advanced doggedly in the east of Mosul, the Ninth Armoured Division was slowly moving through the Intisar neighborhood from the southeast. But the 16th Division failed to breach Mosul from the north, and the 15th Division was still several kilometers from the city limits on the south side of the Tigris, which dissects the city.

Iraqi National Counter-Terrorism Force (INCTF)
Counter-Terrorism Service [CTS]

Iraqi National Counter-Terrorism Force (INCTF)

The Counter-Terrorism Service (formerly the Counter Terrorism Bureau) advises the Prime Minister on counter-terrorism issues and develops the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism National Strategy, policies, and procedures. In January 2007 an executive order placed CTC under the prime minister and in the chain of command of CTC, making it a quasi-ministerial level organization, equivalent in theory to MoD and MoI. The present quasi-official status of CTS deprives it of a budget of its own and limits personnel replacement to offset attrition.

At the time of the US withdrawal, the mostly-Shiite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), of which about 4,100 are Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF), were considered highly capable, and reported directly to Maliki’s “Office of the Commander-in-Chief."

The three-tiered organizational structure which includes the CTS headquarters, the Counter Terrorism Command (CTC), and three Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) Brigades. In May 2008, CTS decided to more than double its size to 8,500 personnel. CTS further increased its authorized strength to 9,230 in 2009.

The 1st ISOF Brigade, frequently referred to as the Golden Brigade, and later the Golden Division, focused on the Baghdad area. The Second ISOF Brigade was created in July 2009. It was located at Area IV and took control of the four regional commando battalions which were previously under the 1st ISOF Brigade. The 2nd ISOF Brigade focused on areas outside of Baghdad.

Under PM Directive 61, signed in April 2007, the Iraqi National Counter-Terrorism Force (INCTF) is independent of both the MoD and MoI. The CoR, however, has not ratified the CT Law that would establish the Counter-Terrorism Service [CTS] as a separate ministry. The proposed CT Law (bill) was initially introduced in September 2008. After being returned to the CoM, the bill had its first reading before the CoR in July 2009. Under the Iraqi Constitution, once a general election has been successfully certified, the previous CoR’s tenure is expired along with any un-passed legislation. This is now the case with the expired CT Law legislation. The legislative process will now have to be restarted with a completely new bill and submitted for a first reading by the new CoR members who were seated in mid-2010.

If the CT Law had passed, it would have formalized a ministerial-level position for the CTS Director and provided regular appropriations and funding. Currently, CTS’ status as an extra-constitutional agency hinders coordination as well as maintenance and sustainment support from the MoD. INCTF leaders and U.S. advisors continue to emphasize to key Iraqi leaders the need for a robust CT capacity in Iraq under the control of a constitutionally recognized body such as the MoD.

INCTF is a non-sectarian force, as reflected in its leadership, its personnel, and the methodologies with which it conducts operations. INCTF unit composition is reflective of the general Iraqi population makeup in terms of percentage of Shi’a, Sunni, Kurd, and other minorities. INCTF’s nonsectarian approach is reflected in the established procedures for internal vetting of personnel for key positions. CTS and CTC are ahead of other ISF organizations with respect to the number of personnel voluntarily screened by U.S. counterintelligence assets. This screening consists of both interviews and polygraphs to verify background investigation data. The Iraqis schedule these screenings with a U.S. liaison officer who acts in an advisory role on these matters.

INCTF was manned at 5,725 personnel by mid-2010. The CTS was manned at 384 personnel, and the CTC had 915 personnel. The 1st ISOF Brigade had 2,793 personnel, and the 2nd ISOF Brigade has 1,633 personnel. After being pressured by the PM, the Minister of Defense promised to transfer 700 active duty soldiers to the ISOF Brigades to help ease manpower shortages. During early 2010, 290 of the transferees arrived to participate in the selection process at the CTC’s “Academia" organization of which 263 were selected to continue on to Commando Training to be conducted in June 2010. English language training for INCTF personnel is an essential pre-requisite for INCTF members selected to attend International Military Education and Training (IMET) courses.

CTS and CTC personnel are based in two separate compounds in the IZ. Construction of the Regional Counter-terrorism Center Baghdad (RCC Baghdad) continued according to schedule, and the Gulf Region Division (GRD) estimated that construction will be completed by November 2010. Once established, RCC Baghdad would serve as the national focal point for collection, analysis, coordination, and dissemination of CT intelligence. The two remaining ISFF funded construction projects for CTS are the regional commando bases in Diyala and Shaibah (Basrah).

The INCTF goal for December 2011 was to achieve two fully manned ISOF brigades with intelligence fusion capabilities and MoD ISR and air mobility aviation in direct support. Additionally, efforts were underway to enhance the Counter-Terrorism Service’s (CTS’s) capability to target enemy networks versus the process of simply pursuing individual targets. The ISOF brigades are highly trained and effective, but are undermanned and underfunded. They lack rotary wing support and operational-level C4ISR.

The INCTF is headed by the CTS, which serves as a higher headquarters to the Counter-Terrorism Command (CTC) and two ISOF brigades. The CTC exercises C2 over the two ISOF brigades that execute combat operations. The 1st ISOF Brigade includes four battalions: 1st Battalion (Commando); 2nd Battalion (ICTF); 3rd Battalion (Support); and 5th Battalion (RECCE). In a recent reorganization, the 4th Battalion, 1st ISOF, which operates the Iraqi Special Warfare Schools, was reorganized under a new academic headquarters in CTC called the “Academia," which is responsible for all CTC training. Finally, a Garrison Support Unit (GSU) provides logistical support to the ISOF brigades. The Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) capability in 2006 resided in an Iraqi special operations brigade, separate from the IGFC, reporting to the JHQ through the Iraqi National Counter-Terrorism Command (INCTC). The brigade, according to the March 2007 DOD 9010 Report to Congress, “is organized into a counter-terrorism battalion, a commando battalion, a support battalion, and a special reconnaissance unit." The MOD is planning to form another commando battalion headquarters with regionally-based companies in Basrah, Mosul, and Al-Asad. U.S. Special Operations Command briefed a Congressional staff delegation that ISOF units were “equal to or better than peer units in other countries in the region." U.S. SOF in Iraq had been training their Iraqi counterparts since 2003, having participated in the establishment of the counter-terrorism and commando battalions. Additionally, U.S. SOF support the Coalition TT for the INCTC.

ISOF generally have been regarded as a success story in the transition of security responsibility to the ISF. The Iraqi counter-terrorism battalion focused on high-level terrorists and terrorist organizations. Additionally, it conducted hostage rescue operations. The commando battalion conducts raids, airfield and port seizures, and reinforces and supports Iraqi counter-terrorism battalion operations. The support battalion provided the ability to maintain and sustain the ISOF during continuous combat operations. The reconnaissance company conducted around-the-clock surveillance of insurgent activities. This small unit operated in a clandestine manner, collecting information on enemies. This information is used to focus direct action operations by the Iraqi counter-terrorism or commando battalion. The training and development detachment conducts the screening and assessment of candidates and conduct follow-on specialty training.

On July 1, 2009, the CTS established the 2nd ISOF Brigade HQ to command and control the four Regional Commando Battalions (RCBs). The 6th RCB is located in Basrah. The 7th RCB is located in Mosul. The 8th RCB is located in Diyala. The 9th RCB is located in Al Asad. Each RCB houses a Commando Battalion, a platoon-sized reconnaissance unit, and a Regional Counter-Terrorism Center (RCC). Both the 1st and 2nd ISOF Brigades conduct tactical operations in conjunction with U.S advisors. These units continue to improve their ability to conduct unilateral operations.

USF-I encouraged INCTF leadership to fully integrate the CTS with the GoI’s other security agencies. USF-I worked to enhance the CTS’s capabilities to build the CTS into a national special operations forces HQ that fully coordinates CT actions with other agencies and with the regional commands. Efforts were underway to integrate RCC intelligence fusion cells into intelligence networks at the Regional Operations Commands (ROCs). To enhance RCC capability and capacity, construction of a new, centrally located RCC in Baghdad began in December 2009. This facility would be the national focal point for collection, analysis, coordination, and dissemination of CT intelligence.

INCTF has deployed liaison officers in support of initiatives designed to promote interministerial intelligence sharing and coordination, and to create a COP for all GoI ministries engaged in CT operations. INCTF has liaison officers assigned to the Iraqi Operational Coordination Group in Balad, and at the Baghdad Operations Center (BOC), as well as select ROCs and PJCCs. Since December 2009, INCTF has also installed two liaison officers assigned to work in the National Intelligence Center.

The CTC’s “Academia" organization had the capability to conduct three rotational courses to meet planned force generation requirements. The first is the three-week Assessment and Selection Course. The top graduates from the Assessment and Selection Course are then sent to the eight-week Operators Training Course for follow-on assignment to the 2nd Battalion (ICTF), 1st ISOF Brigade. The rest of the graduates from the Assessment and Selection Course attend the six-week Commando Course, and are assigned to one of the Commando Battalions. The remaining graduates are assigned to the Support Battalion, the GSU, or one of the headquarters. On April 29, 2010, 59 soldiers graduated from the Iraqi Commando Course at Area IV. Additionally, a select group of CTC officers and soldiers participated in a DOMEX Training Course at Taji conducted by Iraqi instructors. Another course taught at Camp Taji is the Iraq Basic Intelligence Analyst Course. This course graduated 16 members in May 2010. Intel courses use U.S. ITAM-Intel advisors to enhance the curriculum.

U.S. and Iraqi planners identified special operations forces aviation support including rotary wing air insertion and extraction and airborne ISR as critical requirements to support ISOF operations and training. For rotary wing air insertion/extraction, the U.S. developed a complex FMS case to purchase Mi-17s modified with upgraded weapons systems and avionics. The program has suffered significant delays, and the latest revised delivery schedule calls for delivery of most of the aircraft in 2011. Delays in the program directly impact ISOF access to critical aviation assets to support training and operations.

MoD support to ISOF improved. The GoI budget for 2010 included an appropriation of $170 million to CTS within the MoD portion of the budget. CTS leaders used that funding to make payments for needed repair parts and the renewal of vital service contracts that had lapsed in the past months. Additionally these funds were used for a partial disbursement of ISOF incentive pay, which had been suspended since April 2009.

The CTS continued to make improvements in coordination with the MoD, MoI, and Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) on strategic-level planning, targeting, and intelligence fusion. To improve interministerial information sharing, CTS and INIS successfully connected two previously stovepiped IT networks: CTS’s Counter-Terrorism Network (CTNET) and the Iraqi Intelligence Network used by other GoI ministries. The Iraqi Intelligence Network was installed at CTS, CTC, and both ISOF Brigades. Moreover, the Iraqi Operational Coordination Group had connectivity with CTNET.

In late 2012, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) paramilitary forces assumed some of the DOD mission of helping Iraqi counter-terrorism forces (CTS) against ISIL in western Iraq, while also potentially working against ISIL in Syria as well. By June 2014, U.S. Special Operations Forces had conducted two sessions of training for Iraqi CT forces in Jordan.

About $333 million was appropriated to train and equip the Iraqi SOF from 2004 to 2009. The Iraqi SOF fall under the Counter-Terrorism Command (CTC), which responds to target priorities and mission execution orders conveyed by the Prime Minister, through the Counter-Terrorism Service (formerly the Counter Terrorism Bureau). The CTC is also responsible for integrating intelligence and providing command and control of counter-terrorism operations nationwide. Under the direction of the CTC, the Iraqi SOF operational mission specializes in counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency tactics.

MNSTC-I’s project to develop the Iraqi SOF communications network and intelligence software system was accomplished through two related contracts, both awarded by the JCC-I/A. The first of two contracts reviewed (W91GY0-07-D-0015) was awarded to Astro Systems, Inc. in May 2007, to design, install, and maintain a secure communications network at 25 locations in Iraq (18 Joint Provincial Coordination Centers, 4 Regional Coordination Centers, the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Bureau, the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Command Headquarters, and the Iraqi SOF Brigade Headquarters), and to train Iraqi counter-terrorism personnel in its maintenance and use.

The training requirement included developing a training facility, training curriculum and course materials, and conducting training classes. The contract was awarded for an initial period of eight months, with one six-month option period.

The second of two contracts reviewed (W91GY0-07-C-0009) was awarded to Nour USA in January 2007. The contract was to install a database software program, known as Memex, which provides a platform for intelligence analysis. Memex was designed to analyze information on an individual to determine if there are links to insurgents or terrorist organizations, such as family ties, business associations, or political background. The initial requirement was to install Memex at five locations, but the contract was later modified to six locations, including the Iraqi Counterterrorism Center, two Iraqi SOF Brigade Headquarters, and three Regional Coordination Centers. The sites were to have access to Memex through the CTNET.

Funded predominantly by the Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF), the US-led training has been underway in Iraq since December 2014, yielding just under 11,000 trained personnel for the ISF and Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) as of June 30, 2015.

The US program got off to a slow start as it struggled to fund equipment purchases until release of the first tranche of the ITEF. The GOI’s inability to provide enough recruits to fully utilize program training capacity. US military personnel had expected to conduct training for up to 24,000 recruits by fall 2015. To energize recruitment of Sunni fighters in highly contested Anbar province and provide additional advise-and-assist support for the ISF, President Obama announced on June 10, 2015, that he had authorized deployment of 450 additional US military personnel to a new advise-and-assist site at the Taqaddum military base.

Secretary Carter announced the ITEF training program had produced 8,800 trained ISF and 2,000 CTS personnel as of June 30, 2015. An additional 4,000 soldiers, including 600 CTS personnel, were enrolled in training.

Draft reforms to the Counter-Terrorism Law was debated in parliament and they focus on tightening up the process by which arrest warrants can be served in Iraq, which currently only requires two anonymous tip-offs and is widely abused by the security forces. The draft law also envisages a selective amnesty for long-term detainees against whom no case has been brought.




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