Sadly, the battle for Mosul isn’t as clear as it seems. Nor is anything else.

Hey guys!

Hope everyone has had an awesome week! (And if you haven’t, just think: We’re just 10 days, 11 hours, and 15 minutes until the election is finally here!! After that, we can get back to checking facebook and being united and friendly again!)

Geez… Don’t get me started on the election.

But speaking of politics, and trying to be more informed, I wanted to share this recent news account regarding the battle for Mosul.

Like many (all?) Americans, I’ve been happy to hear that Iraqi forces are now liberating the city from ISIS control. And I’ve been following it pretty closely.

But this sobering account from a former Marine turned writer, who recently traveled to Mosul to witness the battle, has really dampened my enthusiasm.

Here are just a few of the highlights:

Iraq vs ISIS? Or Sunni versus Shia?

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST: Elliot Ackerman is a decorated Marine who now makes a living as a writer. He fought in Iraq with the Marines and the Special Forces, and he recently went back to Iraq on assignment for Esquire magazine. He spent time with Iraqi counterterrorism forces who are fighting to retake Mosul from ISIS. These troops have been trained by the U.S. They’re well-equipped, and they are supposed to represent all of Iraq. But Ackerman says that’s not how it looked to him.

ELLIOT ACKERMAN: From the back of their Humvees, you know, they’re flying the Shia flags as they go towards Mosul. You know, and these are the supposedly secular forces that are – you’re not supposed to be participating in any of the sectarian violence.You know, in the West, when we think of the Islamic State, I think what’s first and foremost in our consciousness are these terrorist attacks, whether it’s Paris or the Istanbul airport or the cells that have operated in the United States. But when you’re on the ground in Iraq, what’s really evident is that, you know, this is a Sunni-versus-Shia fight. And the Sunnis are represented by the Islamic State. And brutal as they are, a lot of everyday Sunnis are sort of withholding judgment to see what it’s going to be like under the Iraqi security forces.

And when the supposedly nonsectarian security forces come in flying Shiite banners, you know, it certainly sends the wrong message. And it’s probably in the long run going to make work more difficult for the Iraqi security forces in securing Mosul and winning over the support of the Sunni population there.

Fallujah, 12 years after its second liberation.

MCEVERS: You also went back to Fallujah. That’s a place where you fought in what’s called the second battle for Fallujah in late 2004. Fallujah has now gone through its fourth major battle. Iraqi forces have routed ISIS out of that city. What’s it like now?

ACKERMAN: Well, progress in Fallujah has been very slow. Only about a quarter of the population has come back to the city, and there’s still no water in the city. There’s no power. There’s no sanitation. So the people who are there basically bring in their own potable water, and they’re living off of generators. So if Fallujah is any predictor of what the rebuilding of a Mosul is like, you know, there are significant challenges ahead.

I only share this — I’m sorry, I know it’s depressing — because I’m increasingly convinced that things over there, and in Syria, too, are far more complex and difficult to understand than we could ever begin to imagine.

I can still remember before the Iraq War listening to one of President George Bush’s advisers saying the Shia and Sunni were like Methodists and Baptists; two religions that mostly got along. Clearly, we’ve learned that’s not the case.

It’s also worth noting that Iran and Iraq could become even more significant allies, since Iraq is 60 to 65 percent Shia and only 32 to 37 percent Sunni, according to the CIA.

This matters because before our invasion, Iraq was led by Saddam and the country served as a balance to Iran, which is 90 to 95 percent Shia.

Iraq also served as a buffer between Iran and Saudi Arabia, our long-time ally which is nearly90 percent Sunni.

Clearly, with the wide-spread fighting in Syria, Yemen, and a few other places in the region, we’re witnessing a war between the Sunni and Shia religions. Or perhaps you could term it Saudi Arabia versus Iran, with a whole lot of other actors involved such as the United States and Russia.

For me, I can’t get over the complexity of the situation. We’re essentially helping the Iraqi Army and Shia militias, backed by Iran, take back an Iraqi city from ISIS, who’s getting much of its funding from Saudi Arabia.

I know it’s so simple to rally around the flag here in the states and think, “ISIS is bad, look at all the terrorist attacks, let’s go crush them,” but I’m not so sure it’s that clear. We’ve been fooled before (see Iraq invasion: oil will pay for war; we’ll be greeted as liberators; etc.) and my radar is increasingly going off that we don’t have a clue about what’s really going on over there.

I just can’t get over the fact that Iraqi Army forces are openly flying Shia flags from their vehicles. This is so much more complex than Iraq versus ISIS.

That’s why it’s dangerous to want to send lots of ground troops into the region, to help destroy ISIS in Syria. We’re in the middle of a very ugly family fight, and I’m not sure either side is real big fans of ours. I’m also not real sure either host nation, Iran or Saudi Arabia, has placed us on their Christmas list, either.

I know we can’t completely withdraw, since that would further open the door for the Russians, who have already stepped in too much, but I’m a little tired of the pundits who think crushing ISIS would be easy if we just sent in a bunch of ground troops. I’m not saying we couldn’t defeat them (at least initially), but I AM saying I’m not in a hurry to rebuild Syria, as we tried to rebuild Iraq. (See note above about how little Fallujah has improved even after 12 years.)

We spent at least $1.1 trillion on Iraq, according to the most recent figures, and the country isn’t exactly a tourist hot spot.

I wish I knew what the answers were, but I don’t. And I dare say most of the pundits we listen to, don’t as well.

Yet while we don’t know the answers, it’s important to acknowledge that this is a dense, confusing topic. So the next time your loud-mouthed uncle or neighbor is bellowing about sending in more troops to fight ISIS, just tell them you think it’s not quite that simple.

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell


Stan R. Mitchell, author and prior Marine, is best known for his Nick Woods Marine Sniper series, which has remained in the Top 100 on Amazon for more than three years. The series has also been picked up by for a multi-book audio deal. Additional works include a Western thriller, detective series, and World War II story.

Let’s remember and honor Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler

I wanted to take a moment to do my small part to honor a warrior and true American hero.

Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler was the first American to die in combat in Iraq in four years, and he was a highly decorated Delta Force member who was killed taking part in a joint raid to rescue 70 hostages held by ISIS.

The hostages were expected to be executed within hours, after morning prayers. In fact, their graves had already been dug.

Thus, a joint, night-time raid was launched with Kurdish commandos.

The fighting was fierce and scary, as evidenced by this helmet camera footage dug up by the Washington Post. You can just feel the fear and confusion in the video, as a fire burns, people scramble, and bullets snap past.

And going beyond the call of duty in this battle was Master Sergeant Wheeler.

The Kurds were trying to blast a hole in the outer wall to breach the compound, but were unable to do so, according to The New York Times.

Wheeler, just one of many Delta Force operators advising the Kurds, rushed to the front of the line to fix the charges. And when the hole in the wall was blown, Wheeler led the way through it.

“When you blow a hole in a compound wall, all the fire gets directed toward that hole, and that’s where he was,” said a former Delta Force officer, who once led Wheeler and was briefed afterward about the mission.

The New York Times wrote an impressive tribute to Wheeler, who leaves behind a wife and infant boy, plus three sons from an earlier marriage.

Incredibly, Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler had been on 14 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan since joining the Army, and he had already earned 11 Bronze Stars.

I’m not sure it’s possible to explain those kinds of numbers to someone who’s never served.

In my four years of service, I merely did two measly, six-month deployments, and only spent two days in harm’s way, and it COMPLETELY changed my life. This man may have spent as much as 10 years (or more) in harm’s way. (The math on that is that at one point Army deployments were as long as 13 months, assuming your unit wasn’t extended. Truthfully, we’ll probably never know the real figure, since the Army doesn’t even admit to Delta Force’s existence).

Nonetheless, you can’t really put 14 deployments into words. For instance, both of my deployments had major training work ups (one lasting six months), and these are exhausting and dangerous in their own right. These super-intensive training exercises are far more dangerous than more typical, peace-time training — we actually lost a great Marine during this kind of training, when Lance Corporal Foster died on April 10, 1999, while my company — Alpha Co., 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment — conducted highly dangerous jungle training in Okinawa. Foster drowned while crossing a roaring stream in full combat gear. (Photo by Cpl. Conwell.)

Additionally, there are also air alerts periods for units, where you can’t go far from the base and have to be ready to deploy within hours. (These air alerts involve drills, which are launched by surprise — usually at night or on the weekend! — and you have no idea if they’re real or not until the exercise is ended.)

I say all this because there’s probably no way to accurately measure how much time Master Sergeant Wheeler spent either on air alert, or impossible-to-describe training, or on dangerous deployments into harm’s way.

This man spent the better part of nearly 20 years in the complete, full service of our country. He was away from his family. He was away from comforts, such as a bed, a shower, a TV, or any of the other things we all take for granted.

And even when he didn’t have to be up front, when he could have taken his foot off the gas — he was planning to retire soon — he moved to the front and freely accepted the most dangerous position.

My former platoon leader Captain Eaton said it best.

“This guy had 11 Bronze stars. Even if the ‘plan’ is for foreign fighters to take the lead on a mission, U.S. Commandos will not be mere observers once bullets start flying. They are neither physically nor morally capable of just standing by.”

I wish we had more Americans like Master Sergeant Wheeler, who are neither physically nor morally capable of just standing by.

This man was a warrior. He was a hero. And his record of service and sacrifice should inspire us all.

And while not all of us can serve as Master Sergeant Wheeler did, we can remember that we still have a war going on. We still have troops in danger every single day. And we can do far more to support them.

Furthermore, we can remind our kids that real heroes don’t play on the football field or on the basketball court. They sleep in mud. They deploy thousands of miles away. And they rush through holes that they don’t have to.

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell

About meStan R. Mitchell writes some of the most action-packed, fast-moving gunfighter novels around. Tired of slow-paced, investigative novels that take 300 pages to excite you? Look no further! Stan is the best-selling author of 5 novels in 3 different time periods. He’s also a prior infantry Marine with Combat Action Ribbon, and a former journalist who spent ten years in the newspaper business, learning how to hook the reader, cut out the filler, and just tell the story. In short, Stan is knowledgeable, he’s fast, and his books will blow you away. Don’t forget to subscribe for email alerts to keep up with his latest works.

Three times I wish I hadn’t been right…

When I write, I like to push the limits. Doing so allows you to increase the tension and make a book more engaging and fun to read, obviously.

But at the same time, we all know the moment an author crosses the line into the unbelievable, you’re immediately tempted to stop reading. And not just that book, but possibly even future things the author writes. Thus I tread carefully, before I even get close to that line.

Nonetheless, here are my Top 3 push-the-envelope moments, which have unfortunately all been born out by reality after I published the book. Each in REALLY big ways. (And don’t worry, I’ll keep all three vague enough that they’re not spoiler alerts if you haven’t read the books.)

1 ) Prison breakout, Mexican Heat. In Mexican Heat, I needed to have a cartel leader break out of the country’s most secure prison. I knew there were real life instances of break outs in more moderate prisons, but it would be seriously unrealistic for my character to be placed in a medium-secure facility. So in Mexican Heat, I had to take my chances and write that he was able to break out of the country’s most-secure prison. I thought I could take some heat for this, but thankfully readers agreed that in a country with a drug war that’s killed more than 60,000 people, a prison break out wasn’t that unbelievable. And then just a year after writing the book, ‘El Chapo’ Guzman escaped — even after our country warned Mexico he might.

2 ) Friendly fire incident, Afghanistan. In Afghan Storm, in order to facilitate some future turns of events, I needed to have a pretty serious friendly fire incident occur. Friendly fire incidents had occurred several times in the past decade-plus, but we’ve gotten better at preventing them. Unfortunately, I needed this to be a pretty serious incident, which I knew would be pretty unlikely. But it had to happen to make the book plot work, thus I wrote what I thought was a push-the-envelope attack, instigated by the Taliban, and hoped I wouldn’t be lambasted for it being outlandish. But just days after finishing the book, a Doctors Without Borders hospital suffered a far more horrendous and difficult-to-explain attack.

3 ) City seized, Afghanistan. Finally, in Afghan Storm, I wanted to have the Taliban seize a major city. But I knew I was pushing my luck BIG TIME on this one. ISIS has been pushing into Afghanistan, threatening the Taliban. And the country has seemed to stabilize and suffer fewer major Taliban attacks in recent years. But I believed I could make this attack believable, so I strategized with a prior Army Captain (and good friend) and did plenty of research on how it might occur. I SOOO did not want to be ridiculed for this scene, or hurt the possibilities for this book, which I felt was easily my best. In the end, I went with my gut, but worried greatly about the entire scenario. How would readers react? How bad would the reviews be? Could I even lose readers over it? But as you all know, while the book was literally publishing, the Taliban captured Kunduz, the capital of one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. And they not only captured it, they controlled it for 15 days and freed hundreds of fellow militants from the local jail — neither of which I would have dared predict.

So on the positive side, my author career is likely safe for at least a little longer. But on the negative side, each of these things were horrendous events that have caused unbelievable harm and loss of life.

I can honestly say I wish none of them had come to pass, and that I was forced to vigorously try to defend such “outlandish” events in my books. That, certainly, would have beat the alternative.

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell

About meStan R. Mitchell writes some of the most action-packed, fast-moving gunfighter novels around. Tired of slow-paced, investigative novels that take 300 pages to excite you? Look no further! Stan is the best-selling author of 5 novels in 3 different time periods. He’s also a prior infantry Marine with Combat Action Ribbon, and a former journalist who spent ten years in the newspaper business, learning how to hook the reader, cut out the filler, and just tell the story. In short, Stan is knowledgeable, he’s fast, and his books will blow you away. Don’t forget to subscribe for email alerts to keep up with his latest works.