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‘Chain of Command’ returns to Mosul with Bragg troops

Part Four of National Geographic’s documentary series “Chain of Command” opens with Iraqi soldiers on a rooftop in Mosul.

“In about 400 meters, there’s ISIS,” one of the men on the roof states, pointing out the position of Islamic State fighters.

In this episode of the eight-part series, titled “The End of the Beginning,” Iraqi soldiers, with American support, are closing in on liberating the city that has been a central piece to ISIS’s claim of being a state.

Soon after, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device explodes, sending the soldiers and the camera crew hurriedly off the rooftop.

It’s March 2017 when the episode begins. Over the next 45 minutes, following a path set by the documentary series’ earlier episodes, “Chain of Command” takes the viewer from the front lines of the fight against ISIS in Iraq to the Pentagon and back, with stops along the way in the ideological front lines of the fight against extremism.

As they have in every episode so far, Fort Bragg troops have a starring role in the series, which was filmed over several months while crews were embedded with troops and military leaders in Iraq, Afghanistan, West Africa and Latin America.

“Part 4: ‘The End of the Beginning,’ ” airs Monday at 9 p.m. on the National Geographic channel.

This episode again features soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, who were deployed for nine months in support of Iraqi efforts to retake Mosul and defeat ISIS.

Col. J. Patrick Work, the brigade commander, and Capt. Mark Zwirgzdas, who led a company within the 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, is seen throughout the episode as they advise their Iraqi counterparts and help the Iraqis finish the job in Mosul.

“This is about assurance today,” Work said during a briefing that took place after the VBIED strike near the neighborhood of Old Mosul, the last refuge of ISIS fighters before they were pushed out of the city last year.

“It’s extraordinarily violent right now for the (Iraqi Security Forces),” Work said, describing how the Iraqis had lost 1,500 men over 23 days of fierce fighting. “They have a long way to go and there’s a steep price to pay to root ISIS out of these areas that they’re working in.”

But while “Chain of Command” shows how these Fort Bragg soldiers tie into the nation’s larger defense framework – up to and including Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – it also paints the picture of the global fight on terror.

Actor Chris Evans of “Captain America” fame narrates the series.

“The war on violent extremism is unlike any war of the past,” Evans said. “Because in this war, every time the fighting looks like it’s winding down in one place, it’s just starting back up in another.”

While Iraq features the “bullets and bombs” part of the fight against terrorism, the series takes the viewer to Trinidad and Tobago to highlight the “hearts and minds” approach, following religious and community leaders working to halt a wave of radicalization amid poverty, drugs, and gang violence.

In Iraq, “Chain of Command” shows an Iraqi force on the verge of victory in Mosul receiving key support from Zwirgzdas and his soldiers, who help coordinate air support and intelligence.

The American troops were a little more than a mile from the front lines of the fight in Mosul, able to watch battles from the roof of their compound.

“It’s pretty extraordinary if you consider that five months ago ISIS controlled all of Mosul,” Work said. “And today, he’s down to a little narrow sliver in the northwest, but it’s a determined sliver and it doesn’t want to fall back under the government’s fold.”

It follows key leaders in the Pentagon as they debate the next steps in the war on violent extremism.

And it checks in with a group of Marines who are days from stepping into southwestern Afghanistan after a year of preparation.

Officials said Fort Bragg soldiers will continue to play a key role in the series. Later episodes will feature the 3rd Special Forces Group in Africa.

The series debuted on National Geographic on Jan. 15 and airs a new episode each Monday.

Officials behind the series said they intend to show how the American military fights terrorism, from the streets of Mosul to the upper echelons of the Pentagon. Jeff Newton, a former military reporter for the Observer, is a senior producer on the series. He and crews that he managed shot footage for earlier episodes that included the 82nd Airborne Division.


© 2018 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.