On Saturday morning Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin, a 27-year old artilleryman, was killed by a ISIS rocket attack on a previously secret forward fire support base in northern Iraq. Eight other marines were wounded by the onslaught. The news comes as the long awaited and extremely high-stakes “Mosul Offensive” is slowly taking shape.
The fact that Marines were forward-deployed to a fire base in northern Iraq had not been previously disclosed by the Pentagon. What is known is that American advisers and about 5,000 Iraqi soldiers and their equipment are massing in the farming village of Makhmour, about 40 miles south of Mosul, in preparation for the long-awaited attempt to take back the city from ISIS control.
The base is described as in an austere location with a “couple hundred” Marines living in tents, according to CNN’s sources. The site is said to be an artillery fire base setup to support allied forces heading toward Mosul and to protect Makhmour and the base, known as the Nineveh Operations Center, from ISIS attack.
Makhmour is not known to be a highly secure location in the first place. ISIS fired artillery shells filled at least partially with mustard gas last year at the city when Kurdish forces were present there. Recently they were planning for another similar assault using chlorine gas.
CNN also reports that Marines are said to have moved from their bases aboard ships that are part of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group to the area to set up the base about two weeks ago. It had only been operational for a few days before the deadly attack occurred. The Pentagon now says that they planned on disclosing the existence of the fire base this week.
It is pretty tough to not notice the arrival of a Marine artillery unit, test firing of their guns included. It is likely that ISIS scouts spotted the Marines doing just that before organizing the rocket attack. The enemy rockets are thought to have been launched from about nine miles away.
The Marines quickly executed a counter-battery artillery attack, although it remains unclear if it was successful at killing the assailants. There are also no details as to what counter-battery radar systems the Marines had on site, or if any sort of counter-rocket, artillery and mortar defensive system was in place to protect them from being exposed from such attacks.
The existence of a austere fire base staffed with Marines in northern Iraq once again brings into questions the White House’s steadfast claim that there will be no combat troops, or “boots on the ground” in Iraq, and especially none of the regular forces kind. The idea that a couple hundred Marines are living in tents in an area that has not only been attacked by ISIS multiple times, but it has even been gassed, sure seems to violate this proclamation and is a clear sign of overall mission creep.
Following the death of Staff Sgt. Cardin, the Marines are now pouring more forces into the area, although exactly how much more remains unclear. If this is a move to reinforce the Marines already at the fire base after the attack because they should have had more support in the first place remains unclear.
Cardin is the second American soldier killed in Iraq since anti-ISIS operations began there nearly 20 months ago.