The US is sharing hard lessons from urban combat in Iraq and Syria as Israel prepares to invade Gaza

Oct 24, 2023, 2:31 PM

Palestinians inspect the damage of a destroyed house that was hit by an Israeli airstrike in town o...

Palestinians inspect the damage of a destroyed house that was hit by an Israeli airstrike in town of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

(AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The prospect of Israeli forces launching an assault into Gaza’s dense urban neighborhoods, where militants use civilians as human shields, brings back searing memories of the deadly battles the U.S.-led coalition fought against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

For U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his military leaders, that intense combat and the thousands of civilians killed in airstrikes and neighborhood gunfights in Mosul and Raqqa are lessons to be shared as Israel prepares for a possible ground invasion against Hamas.

“In our conversations with the Israelis, and as we’ve made very clear, we’re continuing to highlight, the importance of mitigating civilian casualties and ensuring that … things like safety corridors are thought through,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday.

The U.S. can paint a vivid picture of civilian slaughter. During the eight-month siege to liberate Mosul from Islamic insurgents, as many as 10,000 people were killed, including at least 3,200 civilians from airstrikes, artillery fire or mortar rounds between October 2016 and the fall of the Islamic State group in July 2017, according to an Associated Press investigation. About the same number of civilians were killed or taken hostage by militants and used as human shields as they fled the city.

Austin, Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Eric Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command, and other senior military commanders all spent time in the region around then and watched the violence unfold. They were keenly aware of efforts to set up humanitarian corridors and decisions to pause operations while civilians were warned to move away. So as they are speaking to their Israeli counterparts on an almost daily basis, they are sharing advice on the challenges of urban warfare, the threats of booby traps and roadside bombs and the drive to protect the innocent while rooting out insurgents hidden in schools, mosques and homes.

“Sharing our 20 years of lessons learned is occurring up and down the chain,” said Navy Capt. Jereal Dorsey, the spokesman for Brown.

Underscoring that priority, the U.S. has sent a team of military advisers to Israel, including Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James Glynn, who helped lead special operations forces against the Islamic State group. Glynn, who also served in Fallujah during some of the most heated urban combat there at the height of the Iraq War, will be able to advise the Israelis on how to mitigate civilian casualties in urban warfare.

“These officials, to include Gen. Glynn, have experience when it comes to urban combat,” Ryder told reporters Tuesday. “They’re in there temporarily with their military expertise to just go through and discuss some of the hard questions that the IDF should consider as they plan various scenarios.”

In discussions last week with Israeli defense and government leaders in Tel Aviv, Austin recalled his experiences heading U.S. Central Command during the first two years of the campaign to defeat the Islamic State group. He talked about lessons learned, including the realization that the world is watching, officials familiar with the talks said.

Austin was blunt both publicly and privately that as Israelis plan their military operations, including any ground assault into Gaza, they must take into account the safety of civilians.

“There are some lessons learned that we will be more than happy to share with our allies here in terms of operating effectively in dense urban terrain, creating safe humanitarian corridors, making sure that we’re thoughtful about how we shape the battle and making sure that our objectives are well defined,” Austin told reporters.

A RAND report released last year found that while the U.S. emphasized the need to minimize civilian harm in the devastating 2017 siege to liberate Raqqa, Syria, there were thousands of casualties. It recommended that the U.S. military adjust its planning, training, targeting and use of weapons in order to better avoid widespread civilian deaths and damage.

Retired Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over U.S. Central Command in 2016 when Austin retired and oversaw the operations, said the most important message for the Israelis — which has been delivered by Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden — is that it’s not what Israel does in its pledge to destroy Hamas, but how the military does it.

“How you orchestrate this campaign really matters,” said Votel. “And they have to do this in a way that reflects values and the concern for innocent Palestinians who themselves are being held hostage by Hamas.”

He added that there are many similarities and some key differences between those missions and a potential assault into Gaza. Hamas, he said, is better armed, with more sophisticated explosives and other weapons supplied by Iran. And the labyrinth of tunnels under Gaza is far more developed and lengthy than those seen in Raqqa.

Militarily, he said, Israel is seeing a more sophisticated and better armed opponent than the Islamic State was in Syria and Iraq.

“There’s a difference between being dug in, going to ground and what we are seeing in Gaza, which is an underground architecture that connects different parts of Gaza and allows people to move supplies, people and other things, and enhance critical functions underground,” said Votel. “I don’t think ISIS got to that particular level of sophistication.”

He said the U.S. and coalition allies had more time to prepare for the battle to retake Mosul. And he said that as the coalition moved down the Euphrates River, it stopped and paused operations a number of times in order to meet with local tribal leaders and try to get innocent civilians out of the line of fire.

The brutality of it all is another element Austin recalls, as well as the need to stop militants even as they are embedded deeply into urban civilian areas.

“In countering ISIS I felt as if we were staring evil in the eye,” Austin said. “It was truly evil. And what we’ve seen from Hamas, it takes that evil to another level. And so that’s the first thing that we need to remember and consider.”


Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

United States News

Associated Press

Heavy fighting in south Gaza as Israel presses ahead with renewed US military and diplomatic support

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Heavy fighting raged overnight and into Sunday in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, as Israel pressed ahead with its offensive after the U.S. blocked the latest international efforts to halt the fighting and rushed more munitions to its close ally. Israel has faced rising international outrage and calls […]

1 hour ago

Pauline Golodoff, left, and George Kudrin hold an iPad featuring images of their deceased spouses, ...

Associated Press

Death of last surviving Alaskan taken by Japan during WWII rekindles memories of forgotten battle

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Gregory Golodoff spent most of his years on a quiet Alaska island, living an ordinary life, managing a co-op store, fishing for crab and serving as the village council president. But Golodoff’s recent death at the age of 84 has reopened a chapter of American history and stirred up memories of […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

3 people killed and 1 wounded in shooting at Atlanta apartment building, police say

ATLANTA (AP) — A shooting in Atlanta killed three people and left one victim wounded Saturday evening, police say. The Atlanta Police Department said officers responded to an address on Peachtree Road NE in the city’s Buckhead district around 6:25 p.m., WANF-TV reported. Police said three victims in their 20s were pronounced dead at the […]

5 hours ago

Heisman Trophy finalists, from left, LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, Ohio State wide receiver Marvi...

Associated Press

LSU QB Jayden Daniels overcomes being outside CFP race to win Heisman Trophy with prolific season

NEW YORK (AP) — LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, becoming the first player since 2016 to win college football’s most prestigious player of the year award as part of a team that did not play for a conference championship. The fifth-year player, who transferred from Arizona State to LSU […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Homes damaged, power knocked out as severe weather rakes Tennessee

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An apparent tornado tore roofs off homes and knocked out power to thousands in Tennessee on Saturday as a line of severe storms raked the state. Police and firefighters in Clarksville were responding to multiple reports of damage in the northern part of the city, which is north of Nashville near […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

The NRA has a surprising defender in its free speech case before the Supreme Court: the ACLU

NEW YORK (AP) — In a case of politics making strange bedfellows, the National Rifle Association will be represented by frequent nemesis the American Civil Liberties Union in an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. The New York-based civil liberties group confirmed Saturday that it would provide legal representation for the gun-rights group in its […]

10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Follow @KTAR923...

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.

Follow @KTAR923...

West Hunsaker at Morris Hall supports Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona

KTAR's Community Spotlight this month focuses on Morris Hall and its commitment to supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University: innovating Arizona health care education

Midwestern University’s Glendale Campus near Loop 101 and 59th Avenue is an established leader in health care education and one of Arizona’s largest and most valuable health care resources.

The US is sharing hard lessons from urban combat in Iraq and Syria as Israel prepares to invade Gaza