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The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. —THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1788

American contractors trapped at Iraqi base surrounded by ISIS; some evacuated by Iraqis *UPDATE*

American contractors celebrate being evacuated from Balad Air Base by the Iraqis on Friday, 13 June. (Image via WND)

American contractors celebrate being evacuated from Balad Air Base by the Iraqis on Friday, 13 June. (Image via WND)

The latest report on several hundred American military contractors, trapped and sometimes under fire since Wednesday at the Balad air base north of Baghdad, is that at least some of them have been evacuated to safety by Iraqi forces.  That’s the good news.

Multiple sources indicate that several hundred contractors and U.S. government personnel were at the Balad base preparing for a delivery of F-16s to Iraq.  (The Fox story alludes to quotes from Jen Psaki of the State Department that there could be “thousands” of Americans in-country, although clearly they were not all at Balad.)

“Three planeloads” of these passengers were flown out of Balad on Thursday, but reportedly, some 400-500 were still at Balad on Thursday night.

At CNN’s iReport website, a contractor’s urgent message from inside the Balad base was posted early on Friday:

I am writing from ballad Iraq as a employee of sallyport, ksillc..there are approx 500 US citizens on balad air base north of Baghdad trapped..we are part of a little known F16 iraq support mission here…The company has reportedly for the last 3 days to fly us out, we are now all herded into a central location on base..and being told nothing..The clint lockheed martin, DoS and most women have already been evacuated days ago but we are all still here.  I hope this message is received by someone that can break this as headline news to bring attention to the situation for us..we are all worried and in dire straight as last security Intel reports Isis elements around us..

According to the WND report, the remaining contractors had come under fire:

The surrounded Americans said they were under ISIS fire from small arms, AK47s, and rocket propelled grenades, or RPGs.

The contractors had been able to hold the base, but those on the scene reported it was only a matter of time before the ISIS terrorists succeeded in breaking through the perimeter. The sources confirmed the contractors were still under siege, despite an Associated Press report Thursday, citing U.S. officials, that three planeloads of Americans were being evacuated from Balad.

[…]

Balad Air Force Base has been under attack since Wednesday, when ISIS rebels seized the nearby town of Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein.

The attacking ISIS forces approached the base in trucks Wednesday and called through loudspeakers for all private security forces and Iraqi special military to leave immediately or die.

The U.S. private contractors in touch with WND reported that after hearing the broadcast, the private security forces and the Iraqi military defending the base dropped their weapons and ran.

The American contractors collected the weapons left behind and were able to hold off further immediate advances.

The posture of the U.S. Air Force in theater was described thus by the contractors on site:

WND learned from sources that the jihadists closed down escape routes, and the U.S. Air Force was in a stand-down position. U.S. forces were not assisting even with air cover so a private extradition flight could land for a rescue, the sources said.

(Note: the term “extradition” is used inaccurately in this last sentence.  Evacuation or extraction would be more correct.)

WND concluded:

Privately scheduled exit flights had fallen through, sources said, as several private pilots originally scheduled to make the flights quit.

The sources contended the U.S. military could provide the necessary air cover to protect C-130s or other air transport craft sufficient to make the evacuation, but [so] far officials had refused to get involved.

At this point, reporting is sketchy, and we don’t know what posture was ordered by the CENTCOM Commander or Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.  On-scene reports in the heat of the crisis should be taken with a grain of salt.

That said, there is no reason to doubt the basic facts that (a) American contractors have been trapped on the Iraqi base, which has been surrounded by guerrilla terrorists, since Wednesday; and (b) there has been no response by U.S. forces to secure the base (i.e., long enough to get our people out) or provide evacuation services directly.

What U.S. forces would we have to do this with?  Interestingly, a theater response force intended to be used for such purposes was designated in 2013, sourced from the 15,000 Army troops stationed in Kuwait for regional contingency responses.  Army units rotate through Kuwait to keep the force at its prescribed troop level.  The basic quick-response force is a company-size unit with the following resources:

ARCENT [U.S. Army Command, Central Region] can scale any contingency response up to the brigade level… There also is a combat aviation brigade deployed to Kuwait, giving the force additional capability as needed… The CAB currently in Kuwait is the 36th CAB, from the Texas National Guard.

“We have multiple response capability within the ARCENT footprint,” [a spokesman] said. “We can gin up a scalable force beyond the company that’s designated, which gives us a unique capability in our AOR.”

The Army response force would be the obvious candidate for securing the Balad base to evacuate Americans through it.  We don’t know if it was put on alert, or if it was decided, in the last 48 hours, that deploying it would be unnecessary.  On the face of it, I would want any decision one way or the other looked into, given that Americans were trapped at Balad under fire and didn’t know if they were going to receive help or not.

Google map; author annotation.

Google map; author annotation.

The Air Force, meanwhile, has a variety of assets at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, including F-15s and F-16s, which can provide air support, and C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft.  Refueling tankers and reconnaissance aircraft are also based at Al Udeid.  The distance from Al Udeid to Balad is about 800 statute miles (1290km/700 nautical miles).  (From Camps Buehring and Arifjan in Kuwait to Balad is between 400 and 500 miles, or 640-800km/350-430 NM.)

There is no Navy-Marine Corps amphibious ready group (ARG) in the CENTCOM theater right now.  The USS Bataan (LHD-5) ARG and 22 Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are in the Europe/Africa theater at the moment.  ARG/MEUs are specially trained to conduct and support evacuations like the one needed by the Americans in Iraq, but the force isn’t in theater and able to respond.  The USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) and embarked air wing (Carrier Air Wing 8) have been outside the Persian Gulf in the Arabian Sea, although reporting in the last couple of days has indicated that moving them into the Gulf is under discussion.  The Bush’s air wing would be able to provide air support.  Navy reconnaissance and transport assets based in Bahrain could also be used in some roles to support an evacuation of Americans from Iraq.

It’s important, again, not to jump to conclusions.  Reporting on this is sketchy, and we haven’t heard a response from U.S. officials on the report that Americans have been under fire at Balad, and have had to be evacuated by the Iraqis.

Here is the full exchange on the topic of Americans at Balad from the Friday, 13 June State Department briefing:

QUESTION: Okay. And could you just – are you in a position to be able to give us some more details about the evacuation of the airbase yesterday?

MS. [MARIE] HARF [State Department spokeswoman]: A little bit.

QUESTION: Several hundred contractors, American citizens working with American companies who are contracted to the American Government.

MS. HARF: Yes. So we confirmed yesterday that U.S. citizens under contract to the Iraqi Government in support of the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program in Iraq are being temporarily relocated by their companies due to security concerns in the area. This is the folks that are at Balad. The status of the staffing at the Embassy and consulates has not changed. Of course, we continue to evaluate our security posture. I’m not going to get into details about where they were evacuated or anything of that sort. And obviously they’re private companies, can also – if they want to provide details, can.

QUESTION: And how many were there? Jo mentioned several hundred.

MS. HARF: I don’t have more specifics for you than that.

But this is certainly worth following up on.  We had to see this coming, by Tuesday at the latest.  We knew then that there were hundreds of Americans at Balad, and that guerrilla jihadists were rolling south along the Tigris toward Tikrit and Balad from Mosul, essentially unopposed.  We know the horrific nature of the punishment these guerrillas inflict on their victims, and we know that ISIS issued a special warning to America earlier this year (and that U.S. officials were aware of that warning by at least 5 February 2014).

Given that we also knew the Iraqi forces in Mosul had abandoned their posts and their weapons under the ISIS attack over the weekend, it would seem to be no more than prudent to ensure a U.S. military evacuation of the remaining Americans in ISIS’s path toward Baghdad.  With a force like ISIS, you don’t sit around waiting to see if they’re going to start shooting at your people.  You go in in force and make them keep their heads down until you’ve gotten everyone out.

That, at least, is what another U.S. administration would do.  We can pray for the remaining contractors at Balad — by the count of the personnel evacuated earlier today, it seems to be about 100 of them — along with any other Americans still in Iraq.  We can hope everyone gets out safely.  The mind boggles at the possibility that we failed, again, to plan for and proactively deal with a foreseeable threat.  Maybe worse, the heart sinks.

Update (Saturday A.M., 14 June):  I’m not highlighting this update in the headline, because there’s nothing definitive in it.  However, I wanted to ensure that the comments I posted in response to reader Xavier were featured for others who may not go through all the comments.

I haven’t been able to get any updates on the situation this morning, about 12 hours later, although a number of (mainly conservative) websites have picked up the story from yesterday.

One of the contractors, Sallyport, has a notice on its main page now that all its employees are in safe places in Iraq. Can’t tell when the notice posted, but it seems to have been overnight.

http://www.mbakerintl.com/

But Sallyport is just one of the contractors with personnel at Balad. We still don’t know what happened to the 100-200 who remained there after the evacuation reported by WND on Friday.

There’s potential good news for Balad, in that the Iraqi national forces are mustering in Samarra for an assault to retake Tikrit. Samarra is basically between Balad Air Base and Tikrit, and the influx of Iraqi forces may drive whatever ISIS guerrillas are roaming the countryside back into Tikrit, or at least away from Balad. (Assuming the Iraqis had a significant order of battle at Balad when this all broke out, they presumably want to secure the air base anyway, and are probably in the process of doing so. We just don’t have the eyes on the ground to send reports back, and the sketchy news flow from the remaining contractors appears to have dried up.)

http://online.wsj.com/articles/iraqi-military-makes-gains-north-of-baghdad-in-conflict-with-isis-1402765053

*UPDATE 2* Saturday P.M. 14 June:  Although there is no word on the status of the contractors who were left in Balad on Friday, this update contains a couple of pieces of slightly more actionable information.

First, the Twitter hashtag under which updates are (very occasionally) being posted is #Balad600.  There is very little there since the 13th, but at least it’s a way to stay plugged in.

Second, ABC7 Los Angeles had a report on one of the contractors who had been trying to get out of Iraq.  He was able to get from Balad to Baghdad — apparently in the group that was flown out by the Iraqis on Friday — and told his brother, who lives in California, that the reason we’re not hearing anything on social media from Baghdad is that the Iraqi government has clamped down on Facebook and Twitter there.  When he left Balad (apparently, again, on Friday), the contractors there still had some access to social media.  When he reached Baghdad, there was no access to them for the public.

It may be that the contractors in Balad have lost access to social media as well.  We can hope, meanwhile, that they have all gotten as far as Baghdad by now.  Reportedly, the contractor featured in the ABC7 story was on his way to Dubai at reporting time.

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.

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  • Guest

    I hope they can all get out, and then this congress lock the door of the WH and not let I don’t want to interrupt my vacation man back in!

    • zabs

      I agree. Lock the door of the WH and not let him in!

  • Renee Nal

    It is actually pretty amazing that you posted this. I was just singing your praises and wondering about your take on this story. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported “About 10,000 American officials and contractors are in Iraq”.

    I was asked to share this below story with you. Do you think it is a possibility?

    “4000 troops arrived in Baghdad and 3000 troops arrived in Sulaymaniyah city.”

    http://english.shafaaq.com/index.php/politics/10124-news-about-the-arrival-of-7000-u-s-troops-to-iraq

    • J.e. Dyer

      Thanks, Renee. I appreciate your connection forwarding this, as I hadn’t seen it. I had just done a search for this post on US troops going to Iraq, and the media are unanimous quoting Obama in the last hour — anywhere between 10 and 55 minutes ago — saying that we definitely are NOT sending troops into Iraq.

      I suspect we are NOT sending troops to Iraq. There’s no way to hide 7,000 troops, and I think even Obama would do the conventional thing and announce honestly that we were doing it, and why, if we deployed that many into Iraq.

      On the other hand, if we were sending in special forces, 7,000 would be WAY too many. Insanely too many. A special forces contingent would probably be no more than 300-400 at the absolute outside. If we wanted to send them in quietly, we would do it that way, rather than doing it visibly and creating questions.

      We can certainly watch for additional developments. But given everything we know right now, I suspect the report is just incorrect.

      P.S. Sulaymaniyah, Iraq — the location cited in the report — is up north near the border with Iran, east of Kirkuk (which was taken over by the Kurds a couple of days ago). It has been a major infiltration point for a long time for Iranian paramilitary forces. It’s pretty wild and crazy up there. Even in the Saddam days, Sulaymaniyah was poorly governed and out in the sticks. It’s so close to Iran, and in Kurd-controlled territory — there’s no operational reason I can think of why US forces would enter Iraq there anyway (or show up there, even if they had entered somewhere else).

      • Renee Nal

        Thank you so much for that – It makes perfect sense. I suspect at a time like this all kinds of rumors are reported as fact. I imagine the Americans left there are signing NDAs as we speak.

      • Renee Nal

        Wow – it must be making the rounds. Someone else just forwarded it to me. I forwarded them to the comments section of this article :-)

      • J.e. Dyer

        I’m sure a report like that one will get a lot of visibility. It would be wishful thinking, but a lot of people abroad would be relieved to see US forces step in on this Iraq crisis.

        I don’t doubt our forces, but I do doubt Obama’s leadership. I want us to ensure we don’t leave Americans undefended, for as long as it takes to evacuate them. But I don’t trust this president to handle a military intervention effectively.

      • Xavier

        I am NOT making predictions nor claiming we have sent troops to Iraq, but given the administration’s penchant for parsing words and redefining their meanings, Obama’s statement that the United States “will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq” is just another meaningless platitude.

        I believe not a word they speak, including “the” and “a”.

      • Xavier

        President Barack Obama formally notified Congress of the assignment in a letter under the War Powers Act on Monday, which said “up to approximately 275″ personnel were being reassigned, noting specifically that they are “equipped for combat.”

        http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/iraq-turmoil/u-s-sends-170-military-personnel-iraq-more-possible-n132676

      • SammysDad

        What is not understood is that this impostor in the WH is not an American!! His support for Islamic troglodytes are obvious, and his reactions to these viont advances in Iraq are appalling and bordering on aiding and abetting the enemy.

  • Xavier

    Now we can finally get rid of everyone in Gitmo!

    Everyzink ist goink akkordink to ze plaan.

    • J.e. Dyer

      It’s interesting, X. I haven’t been able to get any updates on the situation this morning, about 12 hours later, although a number of (mainly conservative) websites have picked up the story from yesterday.

      One of the contractors, Sallyport, has a notice on its main page now that all its employees are in safe places in Iraq. Can’t tell when the notice posted, but it seems to have been overnight.

      http://www.mbakerintl.com/

      But Sallyport is just one of the contractors with personnel at Balad. We still don’t know what happened to the 100-200 who remained there after the evacuation reported by WND on Friday.

      There’s potential good news for Balad, in that the Iraqi national forces are mustering in Samarra for an assault to retake Tikrit. Samarra is basically between Balad Air Base and Tikrit, and the influx of Iraqi forces may drive whatever ISIS guerrillas are roaming the countryside back into Tikrit, or at least away from Balad. (Assuming the Iraqis had a significant order of battle at Balad when this all broke out, they presumably want to secure the air base anyway, and are probably in the process of doing so. We just don’t have the eyes on the ground to send reports back, and the sketchy news flow from the remaining contractors appears to have dried up.)

  • Robert Jacoby

    “We know the horrific nature of the punishment these guerrillas inflict on their victims, and we know that ISIS issued a special warning to America earlier this year”

    Benghazi. Barack & Hillary were explicitly told by the British to get out. Yet we didn’t. (And if word did not reach their own ears, that’s an indictment of their leadership skills.)

    Do we not have US Air Force personnel at Balad, training the Iraqi air force? Is it completely civilian contractors – who would be former air force personnel? And then there are the Marines guarding the US Embassy. The President doesn’t want boots on the ground? We already do have boots on the ground.

    I get that Iraq & Syria are finished as nation states, there will be a realignment of borders not dictated by the British Foreign Office, (hooray, Kurdistan) but we should be able to influence the outcome. Obama seems totally disinterested in that.

    • J.e. Dyer

      RJ — the implication of the State Dept briefings this week has been that any USAF personnel who may have been in Balad were already evacuated. There’s been no specific accounting on that, however.

      Note: The Air Force would NOT have a big training force at Balad. Training the Iraqis on the airframe — whether training aircrew or maintenance personnel — is done at bases and facilities in the United States. Any USAF contingent in Balad would have been a small one, involving an officer and a handful of NCOs who are assigned to work “foreign military sales.” Depending on where we were in the delivery process for the F-16s, there might have been NO Air Force personnel at Balad. (There’s a contingent of FMS case workers at the embassy in Baghdad.)

      And yes, Obama seems to not care at all what happens to Iraq. We shouldn’t be too quick to celebrate the absence of the British Foreign Office from the new border “negotiations” breaking out. The Brits were just the most recent empire to impose its will on regional borders. There’s never been anything BUT imperial border-setting between the Sinai and the Zagros Mountains — to the extent that borders have ever been acknowledged or respected. Mainly, there’s been a lot of fighting for the last five millennia.

      • Robert Jacoby

        Thanks, JE

  • http://www.virginiaconservative.blogspot.com/ BobMbx

    Too bad these US citizens aren’t American soldiers. If they were, the WH would certainly be moving heaven and earth, as required by longstanding US tradition, to not leave anyone behind.

    Just wondering, has anyone responded to those men who got a message out to us that we’ll get their concerns to the Pres just as soon as he returns from his golfing weekend with Chewey?

    • Gregg Martin

      That isn’t working out real well for one Marine stuck in a mexican jail right now though?

    • whodowetrust

      Maybe he will trade for the rest of or “guests” at Gitmo.
      I hope America is learning her lesson on looking at what a candidate has DONE and not what they PROMISE.

    • rob

      no they wouldnt they would let them die, ISIS is CIA funded and CIA backed to the hilt and these people hundreds of thousands recruited and trained and indoctrinated by them and the Saudis for 35 years are running amuck and have been forever it seems and the Obamafuhrer is the one controlling them

  • jgets

    Good news about the evacuees.

    Now, let’s hope ISIS doesn’t find Saddam’s WMD’s lying around Tikrit….That, fighter-bombers, and a frigate are just about the only things missing from their arsenal now….

  • Mark Schwendau

    Barack Hussein Obama built this!

  • ROGER

    NO MATTER LTHE NUMER OF AMERICANS AT BALAD AIR BASE EVEN IF IT WERE ONLY ONE THERE OUR POS POTUS IS GOING TO LEAVE THEM THERE TO BE KILLED JUST LIKE IN BENGHAZI: “REMEMBER CHRIS STEVENS, SEAN SMITH, GLEN DOHERTY AND TYRON WOODS”.

    • whodowetrust

      Again he refuses to even allow for us to provide cover for them to escape.Those that were evacuated were flown out not by our forces but Iraqi forces,
      Fuc*ing traitor Obama will let Americans be slaughtered as they beg for help.yet again.
      When will our armed forces have had enough of this traitor and the likes of Holder,Jarret and the other scum in Washington?

  • BigAlSouth

    Obama plays golf while Balad burns . . .

    • KTS2

      What a fcking traitor, I can’t believe this country puts up with a limp wristed marxist.

  • rob

    guys ISIS was created and is run by the CIA and the pig Obama its the same crew that wrecked Egypt ran into Libya and the Syria same people NWO globalist Wahhabi terrorist army

  • Xavier

    String of explosions rocks Iraqi capital, killing at least 15 – @AP

    • J.e. Dyer

      Thanks, X. According to the report Renee posted over the later piece (on “too politically sensitive” to evacuate the US embassy), the “Too late Alamo” text came from the embassy.

      Do you have a link to a report showing that the “Too late Alamo” text came from Balad?

      “Alamo” means, of course, “My position is being overrun.”

  • M T

    Libya, Russia, and now Iraq… Obama’s Administration reversed the course of Bush’s — which led to one disaster after another.

    We should’ve stayed in Iraq for years to come — the way we remained in Germany and Japan after WW2… But Obama had something to prove…