“OK Saidi, we have to run one at a time across this area.” The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service major said. “There are Daesh snipers who can see us.”

So just like you see in the movies, we crossed the street in a crouched run (but not a sprint — never run faster than your hosts) and entered a courtyard on the other side. No shots were fired.

Col. Arkan was checking on the most forward-deployed of all the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service units inside Mosul — the Basra Battalion. I had served with some of them in Basra in early 2008 and it was nice to see old teammates from the battle the Iraqis call, “The Charge of the Knights.”

Arkan brought the ICTS communications officer to inspect a cache of ISIS radio and electronics equipment in a building that had formerly been a Christian charity clinic.

Ruined hallway
The ISIS commo bunker was mostly a pile of rubble on the floors above the basement. Mitch Utterback photo.

We ducked below courtyard walls and under window wells to reach the stairwell, and climbed down its blasted remains using exposed rebar as hand holds. Scattered in every room on the ground floor we found radios, chargers, power amplifiers, cables, servers, wiring and antennas. ISIS had captured much of it, but we wondered if the Cisco servers still in original shipment packaging were less than two years old — meaning ISIS has ordered them after they took Mosul.

Radio equipment scattered in room
Strewn throughout the rooms were many types of communication and electronics equipment. Mitch Utterback photo.

ISIS is buying other communication gear and keeping accurate logs of their purchases (ICTS has a stack of captured financial records they are still analyzing). ISIS was also carefully documenting to whom they issued equipment. ICTS found stacks of blank receipts ISIS used to record who got what gear. They were obviously planning to keep the Caliphate and keep track of their stuff.

And yes, we were concerned and careful about booby traps as we searched.

We reversed our route up and climbed out of the communication warehouse, crossed the same sniper engagement areas and returned to the Humvees.

Arkan and the guys then stopped at a large, burned out house — the torching of it a sign it had been used by ISIS before they fled. Nothing of immediate value was found, but a story about the house was waiting for us across the street.

Burned room
Formerly ISIS-occupied home in Mosul, torched after they fled the approaching Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service. Mitch Utterback photo.

An ICTS soldier knocked on the gate of the neighbor, and we were invited into their front courtyard to sit, drink chai, and hear what had happened. Three middle-aged men and three young men told us their version of events.

The house across from them was owned by an Iraqi government official. When ISIS came, he and his family fled the city. Their house was then occupied by a doctor and his five sons — all sympathetic to ISIS. According to our hosts, the five sons fought for ISIS. When ICTS forces took East Mosul, the doctor and his sons fled and set fire to the house. The guys we were drinking chai with didn’t know where they were now.

We departed, and three questions came to mind.

First, how much of what we just heard could be believed? These guys had a nice house and all looked like military aged males to me. They could just as easily have also been occupying a house and keeping their ISIS sympathies to themselves. Second, I wondered where the original owners of the burned-out house were now — or if they were still alive.  Finally, I thought about the ISIS-sympathizing doctor, an anesthesiologist, and his five sons — and hoped some of my Iraqi friends would be interacting with them soon if they were still in Mosul.

Coming up next: Reunion with Brig. Gen. Abbas Al-Jubouri and embed with his unit — the Emergency Response Division as they liberate the southeast side of Mosul.


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