“Bad timing,” explained LTC Erik Kurilla, lying in his hospital bed at the Madigan Army Hospital in Fort Lewis, Washington, recovering from gunshot wounds suffered in combat in Mosul on 19 Aug, 2005. Titanium replaces part of his shattered femur, while the wounds in his other leg and arm are healing quickly. Kurilla, whose warrior stature on the battlefield is fast becoming legendary, is expected to make a full recovery with no limitations. He will return to his command of 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment (better known as “Deuce Four”) when they return from Iraq in late September. “I wanted to be there with my soldiers until the end, keeping our boot on the enemy’s neck and pushing his back up against a wall, right until the very last minute,” Kurilla said.
Kurilla worries that a premature military withdrawal from places like Mosul could give the enemy a chance to regroup. “Without a strong Coalition military presence in the near term, all our gains would be eroded,” Kurilla predicted, “Worse, we’d be consigning our Iraqi allies, who have become increasingly effective fighting side by side with us, to a brutal civil war against an enemy that is savagely intent on clinging to a power they should never have possessed.”
The Deuce Four is a Stryker infantry battalion comprised of about 700 soldiers, and has lost 12 men and earned over 150 purple hearts in some of the most intense urban combat of this war. When the battalion arrived in Mosul, the mostly-Sunni city had already devolved into an insurgent stronghold. When the home-base for organized kidnap and beheading squads swelled with the steady stream of fighters fleeing the crackdown in Falluja, the local police simply abandoned their stations. Mortar rounds and rockets fell by the hundreds, scores of car bombs attacked Deuce Four, the ISF, and later crowds of people, and IEDs made the roads literal minefields. In December, a terrorist slipped into the dining facility on FOB Marez and detonated his explosives vest during a crowded meal, killing 22 people.
Kurilla’s aggressive battle plan brought the fight to the enemy. Every new evolution in terrorist tactics was met with a ferocious counter blow that not only destroyed the immediate target, but also signaled frightened civilians that the US Army meant business in Mosul. Equally important civil affairs projects generated electricity virtually around the clock, built schools and parks, and brought top medical care to civilians. Within months, increasingly desperate to maintain control over the population, terrorists began launching attacks straight through groups of children, leaving many horribly burned. Their savagery further alienated civilians who were beginning to see the benefits of change. When top insurgent leaders were killed and captured, largely based on tips from Iraqi citizens, enemy attacks fell precipitously.
As the Deuce Four heads home this week, they leave behind a Mosul that, while not yet in the clear, is much closer to security and prosperity than anyone would have considered possible eight months ago. In between the daily secret reports Kurilla has brought to his hospital room so he can track his battalion, the Commander watches television news, increasingly frustrated by what he sees as a clear, and inaccurate, negative bias. “When you get the news back here in the states, it’s all doom and body counts. I only wish the American public could see the incredible progress that is being made every day in Iraq, particularly in places like Mosul.”