As the scouts of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment finished initial reconnaissance on Tal Afar, Iraq, in 2005 and began leaving the city, women chased them. They begged the Americans not to leave, Scott Hamric said, recalling what soldiers told him upon returning from the deployment.
Terrorists had completely shut down life in the northern Iraq town of about 200,000 people and were using it as a staging area and training camp. Schools, hospitals, markets and the government were closed.
As director of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment Museum, Hamric collects stories like this from troopers to tell the Brave Rifles’ story.
“Third ACR was immediately ordered to deal with this,” Hamric said.
For about a year, all but one of the regiment’s squadrons fought to rid Tal Afar of insurgents, eventually creating enough stability for citizens to vote in the country’s election with more than 90 percent turnout.
“It was a counterinsurgency mission that was very successful,” Hamric said.
Now, not even a decade later, the town is falling into the hands of a radical terrorist organization again.
The Brave Rifles initially deployed to a region south of Baghdad but were quickly reassigned to free Tal Afar. Only 3rd Squadron remained on the original mission.
To clear the town, the regiment first built a berm around the entire city, then got all innocent civilians out, according to a documentary made by the regiment after its return. During a mission called Operation Restoring Rights, the largest offensive operation conducted that year, the regiment and about 5,000 Iraqi soldiers took back the city and defeated the insurgents’ stronghold. More than 200 militants were killed and more than 800 captured.
It wasn’t without sacrifice. The Brave Rifles lost 43 troopers fighting in Tal Afar and near Baghdad during 2005.
The mayor of Tal Afar, Najim Abdullah Abid Al-Jibouri, wrote a letter to the regiment thanking them for what the soldiers did. He said it went from a “ghost town” to a “secure city flourishing with life.”
“They have sacrificed that which is most valuable. We see them in the smile of every child, and in every flower growing in this land. Let America, their families and the world be proud of their sacrifice for humanity and life,” Al-Jibouri wrote. “I have met many soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment; they are not only courageous men and women, but avenging angels sent by the God himself to fight the evil of terrorism.”
The regimental commander during that time, then-Col. H.R. McMaster, described his strategy as a deliberate approach during an interview with PBS Frontline in 2006.
“With the intelligence we were receiving, we could conduct very precise offensive operations to capture them. We had people who were willing to come forward and tell us exactly what these people did and to testify against them in court, because people were really desperate to return to normalcy and to bring security to the city and to their children,” he said.
On June 16, the Associated Press reported Tal Afar was taken over by insurgents with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Fighting continued Saturday, with more northern Iraqi cities falling into the organization’s control.
During the Frontline interview, McMaster said even though the regiment’s 2005 operations were successful and he was optimistic about the future, time would be the real test for Tal Afar.
“... We recognize this success is very fragile and that the situation here generally is very fragile,” he said. “I’m an optimist because I know that our enemy offers these people nothing except for more violence, more brutality. I know that what the Iraqis, the good Iraqis, the new Iraqi government ... offer are the good things — prosperity, the ability for children to go to school without wondering if they’re going to come back because of the violence on the street. And I think the Iraqi people are increasingly behind the good Iraqis who have stood up for their country and for their people.”