The storied colors and streamers of America’s Contingency Corps returned to Fort Bragg in a ceremony Wednesday, marking the end of a year-long mission to the Middle East in command of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, XVIII Airborne Corps commanding general, and Command Sgt. Maj. Benjamin Jones, the Corps command sergeant major, led the last of more than 300 paratroopers into the passenger terminal at Pope Army Airfield.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of these Soldiers,” Townsend told the large crowd. “Over the last year these Paratroopers led the fight against a truly evil enemy, helping to keep us all safe here at home.”
In August 2016, Townsend assumed command of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve — the international coalition of 73 nations and partner organizations formed in 2014 to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The XVIII Abn. Corps headquarters made up the core of the CJTF-OIR headquarters.
Townsend said the Corps’ mission was to help Iraqi and Syrian partner forces defeat ISIS by enabling them through five means: equipment, training, intelligence, precision air and ground fires and combat advice.
Over the past three years, the Coalition has made significant progress. In Iraq and Syria, the Coalition has trained more than 120,000 partner forces, building the capacities needed to defeat ISIS and hold territory. Those forces have liberated more than 80,000 square kilometers of what was once ISIS-held terrain, and more importantly they have liberated more than 5.6 million people in Iraq and Syria from ISIS’s brutal control.
In July 2017, after nearly nine months of intense urban combat, the Iraqi Security Forces backed by the Coalition completed their historic liberation of the ISIS capital in Iraq, Mosul.
“In Mosul we saw the toughest fighting anyone has seen since WWII,” said Townsend. “This would have been hard for any Army in the world but with the Coalition’s support, the Iraqi Security Forces did it, which is a testament to the paratroopers you see in front of you that enabled them.”
Townsend also spoke of the many challenges the revamped Iraqi Security Forces had to overcome in the historic liberation of Mosul.
“Not only did the Iraqi Security Forces have to overcome a fanatical enemy fighting in dense urban terrain,” said Townsend. “They had to overcome ISIS’s use of chemical munitions, explosive-laden drones, suicide vests, armored car bombs and the use of civilians as human shields.
“The Iraqis have reclaimed Mosul, and Syrian partner forces are on the verge of liberating ISIS’s global capital in Raqqah,” said Townsend. “And I will tell you, every victory against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, makes us that much safer here at home. So you should be proud of your Soldier and what they have accomplished — I certainly am.”
The fight against ISIS is not over in Iraq and Syria, but with the ISIS capital of Mosul now back in Iraqi hands and the ISIS capital of Raqqah more than 60 percent liberated, the military defeat of ISIS is much closer at hand than it was a year ago.
The Army’s III Armored Corps, based at Fort Hood, Texas, assumed responsibility for leading the Coalition on Tuesday.
“There is still a lot left to do over there and I’m confident that our brothers with the III Armored Corps will continue to take the fight to the enemy and defeat this global threat,” said Townsend.
Townsend also praised the “Sky Dragon” Family members in the audience and credited them with playing an essential role in the success of the unit.
“You all had the toughest job here,” he said. “These Soldiers would not have been able to do what they did downrange if it weren’t for you. You gave our Soldiers the strength and the peace of mind to concentrate on the mission.”
The Corps transitions back to Fort Bragg to reset, refit and begin training for the next mission.
“It is not the nature of paratroopers to sit on their hands. We will train hard to ensure we are ready to answer the nation’s call,” Townsend remarked. “Whatever it may be.”