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Tuesday, April 22

101st Airborne arrives in Mosul to restore order

By Rob Curtis | Army Times

MOSUL, Iraq - More than 5,000 troops from the 101st Airborne Division arrived Tuesday to take on the delicate task of establishing order in this unstable northern Iraqi town divided along ethnic, cultural and religious lines.

The troops will be walking a fine line during the initial transition from combat to security and support operations, only engaging people who are a clear threat and allowing uniformed personnel to carry weapons as long as they don't threaten U.S. forces.

"A week ago it was straight combat operations," said Lt. Jason Davis, 25, of Ontario, Ore., 3rd platoon leader. "Now the rules have changed.''

Walking the sloping streets of the industrial sector that belongs to his unit, soldiers are likely to see armed police and militia forces as neighbors instead of enemies.

"It's now, 'Is the weapon in his hands or is he raising the weapon toward you?' It's an immense responsibility,'' said Davis. "It just makes fighting a lot harder.''

The 101st Airborne, the 4th Infantry Division and 10th Special Forces Group will work together to bring security to Iraq's third largest city situated among rolling green hills on the Tigris River, 60 miles from the both the Turkish and Syrian borders.

Factions of Kurdish resistance groups, ethnic Turkmen, Muslims, Turkish special forces and what is left of Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen and Baath Party loyalists are all jockeying for power.

"It seems like there has been a lot of looting and a lot of crime, so right now they are greeting us with open arms,'' said Lt. Col. Chris Holden, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, part of the division's 2nd Brigade. "One major element that we are concerned with is that the Kurd elements are all armed, and we've got the chore to disarm them.''

Stressing the importance of vigilance during the first few days of the mission in Mosul, Maj. Brian Pearl, the 3rd Battalion operations officer, reminded the junior leaders during a planning meeting, "This is combat. This is An Najaf, this is Karbala, this is Baghdad."

Only after securing their own command posts and getting a reliable intelligence read on their sectors will the battalion begin clearing the city of weapons and engaging in a civil affairs campaign to bring safety and security to the city.

Before Tuesday, the bulk of the 2nd Brigade had been performing limited patrols after their initial intense clearing of their sector in Baghdad. Now the rifle companies stand in the slightly cooler northern climate and listen to the familiar sound of occasional gunfire, sometimes far off, sometimes around the corner from their temporary shelter in an abandoned soap factory.

"Baghdad wasn't our home and we knew it, so it was hard for the guys to really get into it,'' said Capt. James McGahey, 30, of Brighton, Mich., commander of B Company. "Ever since we knew we were going to Al Mosul we wanted to get here (and) get on with what we came here to do.''