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Iraqi Military Demonstrates New Skills in Mosul Campaign

INCIRLIK, Turkey, Aug. 2, 2016 — Military personnel unfortunately are all too familiar with the IED – improvised explosive device – and the VBIED – vehicle-borne IED. But not too many service members are familiar with the TreeBIED or the FridgeBIED.

Iraqi army forces had to deal with tree-borne and refrigerator-borne IEDs during recent operations to build and defend a bridge over the Tigris River. It is a sign of the growing capabilities of Iraqi security forces that they took it in stride.

Iraqi military engineers installed a bridge over the Tigris near Qayyarah. The span -- called an improved river bridge – connects the 9th Iraqi Army Division on the west side of the river and the 15th Iraqi Army Division on the east. “It is a sophisticated operation for even well-established militaries,” Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said to reporters traveling with him.

On his current overseas trip, Dunford spent two days in Iraq receiving briefings in Baghdad and Irbil, and two days in Turkey speaking with Turkish leaders in Ankara and meeting American service members at Incirlik Air Base.

Bridge Provides Mobility for Iraqi Troops

The Qayyarah bridge is the only span across the Tigris between Mosul and Baghdad. A civilian bridge once spanned the river, but the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had been using it, so coalition aircraft had to destroy it.

The military bridge gives Iraqi troops mobility, allowing reinforcements and materials to cross easily. It also helps to isolate ISIL fighters. Building it is a key accomplishment in the campaign to retake Mosul from ISIL control, officials in Baghdad said. While American combat engineers observed the operation, they had no role in building the span, officials noted.

The bridge across the Tigris is about 200 meters long, and Iraqi military engineers built approaches on either side. The engineers were under fire when they started, but Iraqi soldiers forced ISIL fighters away and construction proceeded, officials in Irbil said. “There was a bit of a bend in it at first, because they anchored it a bit loosely against the current, but they tightened it up and it is working very well now,” one official said. The engineers also built the defenses for the bridge, and that is important, the official added, as ISIL fighters recognize the strategic importance of the span and have tried to destroy it.

Tree and Refrigerator Bombs

Hence, the TreeBIED and FridgeBIED. ISIL bomb makers hollowed out trees, packed them with explosives, and put them in the river upstream from the bridge. The idea was that the trees would float down the river and explode next to the span. It didn’t work. The Iraqi defenses caught the ploy, and the span was never in danger.

Next, ISIL bomb makers packed a refrigerator with explosives and put that in the river. Again, the defenses caught the bomb and engineers disposed of the threat. Iraqi engineers also have placed defenses on the downstream side of the bridge.

ISIL fighters now are reduced to lobbing mortars at the bridge. “They fire two or three shells at a time,” the official said. “They can’t do any more, because coalition air would kill them if they stayed any longer.”

The terror group has not come close to hitting the bridge yet.

Iraqi combat engineers may get a chance to practice their bridge-building skills closer to Mosul as the campaign to retake the city continues. Until then, they are keeping their eyes open for more TreeBIEDs.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)