Camp Swift has been a cornerstone of the US military's effort to roll back ISIS's self-styled caliphate since the base opened last year in northern Iraq. It hosts parts of an infantry brigade combat team that includes infantry and artillery soldiers, engineers, and other U.S. service members. Their mission is to help local forces take the fight to ISIS.
The base is set outside the city of Makhmour, some 50 miles south of ISIS's Iraqi capital, Mosul. They are helping to plan and execute an offensive by Iraqi and Kurdish forces for the city that will be the largest against the militants to date. "The main event is getting to Mosul," said Col. Brett Sylvia, the senior officer at the base.
Sylvia and his troops are helping to arm and train local soldiers and coordinate the battle plan for Mosul. They are also putting their lives on the line — US artillery teams have been firing on ISIS in support of Iraqi advances, sometimes from beyond the confines of the base. "We never forget that this is a combat zone," Sylvia said.
ISIS rockets have hit the base in the past as well, the soldiers there said. But it had been quiet there of late — and aside from the battle at hand, they were also focused on settling into the base for their months-long tours. While some soldiers kept watch at sandbagged guard posts, others worked out in the makeshift gym, which was stifling in the summer heat. Sylvia joked that the holes cut into the tarp that gave the gym its walls was the air-conditioning system. "Our daily struggle is to keep the dust out," he said, giving a tour through the tents that make up the troops' sleeping quarters. "A day here is like a week back in the States."
ISIS has lost 45% of its territory since declaring a caliphate after it seized Mosul in June 2014, according to the Pentagon. The loss of Mosul would deal a crushing blow to the militants. As the battle nears, the front lines are moving north toward the city — and away from Camp Swift. "Every day our position back here becomes just a little bit more secure," Sylvia said.
An image showing the entrance to Camp Swift was removed at the request of the US Army.