Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – North (CJSOTF–N), also known as Task Force Viking, was the U.S. joint task force responsible for the northern front during the initial period of the 2003 invasion of Iraq (OIF Rotation I). It secured Kirkuk, Mosul, and the northern oil fields; prevented 13 Iraqi Army divisions from defending Baghdad or reinforcing defensive operations against United States and British troops advancing in the south, and thwarted Turkish efforts to subvert Kurdistan. Task Force Viking conducted unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance, direct action, and Artillery observer missions in order to disrupt and fix Iraqi forces arrayed along the "Green Line", the nominal 1991 demarcation line between the Kurdish northern provinces of Iraq and the remainder controlled by Saddam Hussein.
CJSOTF–N was composed of Special Forces units, the 173d Airborne Brigade, elements of the 10th Mountain Division and the 96th CA BN(-) and the 404th CA BN of the United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC) of the United States Army; the 352d Special Operations Group of the United States Air Force; the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit; and indigenous Kurdish Peshmerga. All U.S. units were initially prepositioned in Constanţa, Romania beginning in February, 2003 except the 173d based in Vicenza, Italy, and the 26th MEU based aboard the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group in the Mediterranean Sea. The mix of conventional and special operations personnel for the task force numbered approximately 5,200 and fell under the United States Special Operations Command Joint Operations Center (USSOCOM JOC). The TF motto was "Concede Nothing." Facing Task Force Viking were two divisions of the Iraqi Republican Guard (including the 6th Motorised?), two Mechanized infantry divisions, one armored division, eight infantry divisions and Fedayeen Saddam militia. Amongst these units were the 2nd, 4th, 7th, 8th, 16th, and 38th Divisions. Task Force Viking also had to contend with Ansar Al Islam, Ansar Al Sunna, and Kadek/PKK irregulars and also with the dueling future political aspirations of the various Kurdish factions (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan & Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq), Turkomen (Iraqi Turkmen Front), Yazidis, and the Sunni Arab tribes.
Originally, the task force planned to infiltrate Northern Iraq via Turkey. However, Turkey did not grant permission for an invasion of Iraq from its soil or over its airspace. Coalition commanders instead undertook a complicated and roundabout infiltration via Jordanian airspace beginning the evening of 20 March 2003. This operation was known as "Ugly Baby". The "Ugly Baby" operation was the longest infiltration mission since World War II and the longest MC-130 Combat Talon infiltration in history. After much diplomatic maneuvering, Turkey finally allowed US overflights on 23 March. This allowed Task Force Viking to expand to 50 individual Special Forces Operational Detachments-Alpha (ODAs) (formerly known as A-Teams.) Reinforcing the ODAs on 26 March, the 173rd made a combat jump onto Bashur airfield 40 miles (64 km) north of the "Green Line". This was the largest airborne assault since World War II. The 173d fully secured Bashur, enabling airborne insertion of 1st Infantry Division armor on 7 April, followed by the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
A friendly fire incident near Pir Daoud on Sunday, 6 April 2003, killed 18 members of Task Force Viking and injured 45. An F-15 mistakenly dropped a bomb on the position of US Special Forces and Peshmerga troops instead of on the Iraqi tank 1 mile (1.6 km) away. One of the injured was Wajih Barzani, the brother of Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Shortly after its 10 April 2003 liberation, the Turkish government began to covertly dispatch their own special forces troops to Kirkuk. Disguised as aid workers, they were to train and equip members of the Iraqi Turkmen Front to destabilize Kurdistan and provide Turkey a pretext to intervene with a large "Peace Keeping" force. Elements of the 173d under the command of Colonel William Mayville identified and intercepted the Turkish soldiers, and escorted them back across the border with no shots being fired.
TF Viking Milestones:
Kirkuk Liberation – 10 April 2003
Mosul Liberation – 11 April 2003
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