IDF paratroopers teach US marines ‘lost art’ of tunnel combat
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IDF paratroopers teach US marines ‘lost art’ of tunnel combat

On sidelines of huge Juniper Cobra air defense exercise, American and Israeli ground troops trade know-how and practice beach landings, urban combat, desert warfare

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli paratroopers and US marines completed a series of exercises over the past week and a half aimed at sharing techniques and knowledge on beach-landings and aspects of urban warfare, as part of the joint Juniper Cobra exercise, officers said.

For the Americans — specifically the US Marine Corps’ 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment — it meant learning how to fight in tunnels, something marines haven’t had to do since the Vietnam War, said battalion commander Lt. Col. Marcuz Mainz.

“It’s a lost art for us,” he said.

For the Israelis — the Paratroopers’ Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion — it meant seeing how the marines use light armored vehicles in combat, according to Lt. Ron Semel, the battalion’s training officer.

Israeli paratroopers and US soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment take part in training during the joint Israeli-US military Juniper Cobra exercise at the Tze’elim urban warfare training center in southern Israel on March 12, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“We did a joint training session with them, fighting side by side, with the armored vehicles, and the way they used them on the battlefield was really effective,” he said.

Hundreds of troops from each of the two armies participated in the exercise that took place on the sidelines of the massive Juniper Cobra air defense exercise, which kicked off last week with thousands of soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces and US military’s European Command.

“We came to learn, train, and share our techniques and ideas with the IDF. In the end that’s to make us a more effective force in future operations, if we’re doing them together or independently,” Mainz told reporters.

A US V-22 Osprey takes part in a training exercise during the joint Israeli-US military Juniper Cobra air defense drill at the Tze’elim urban warfare training center in southern Israel, on March 12, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“We had lieutenants and sergeants out there training each other, training each other’s soldiers seamlessly. An IDF sergeant would grab a marine and tell him, ‘No, look in that direction. Do that.’ And vice versa,” the lieutenant colonel said.

Israeli paratroopers and US soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment take part in training during the joint Israeli-US military Juniper Cobra exercise at the Tze’elim urban warfare training center in southern Israel, on March 12, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

According to Semel, the joint exercise also presented an opportunity for introspection.

“A visitor sees every flaw. We had someone coming from outside, seeing us work, and then can figure out every issue that we have in our technique and help us strive for perfection,” he said.

The Marines officer said this was his unit’s largest exercise since about 2010.

The American battalion arrived to Israel’s Palmachim beach, south of Tel Aviv, on hovercrafts last week. The American soldiers brought with them light armored vehicles, artillery cannons, transport helicopters, and V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, a type of helicopter-airplane hybrid that Israel has long expressed an interest in purchasing.

“The Marines brought their armored vehicles and artillery. We brought our knowledge of how to fight in underground tunnels,” Semel said.

A US army Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion and two US V-22 Ospreys take part in a training exercise during the joint Israeli-US military Juniper Cobra air defense drill, at the Tze’elim urban warfare training center in southern Israel, on March 12, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The first week of the joint exercise focused on beach landings, while this week will focus on desert warfare and urban combat, the officers said.

The urban combat training will include a session on tunnel warfare on Tuesday night and Wednesday, Semel said.

“We’re holding a force-against-force drill, during [which] the Marines will encounter underground tunnels and they will have to deal with that threat. To do so, they’ll have to work with us and use our knowledge of how to do it,” the Israeli lieutenant said.

The urban training took place at the army’s Tze’elim army base in the Negev desert, which includes a mock Arab town.

“It’s one of the best training facilities I’ve ever seen,” Mainz said.

Israeli paratroopers and US soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment take part in training during the joint Israeli-US military Juniper Cobra exercise at the Tze’elim urban warfare training center in southern Israel, on March 12, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

In Tze’elim, the two militaries practiced combat in an urban environment, where differences in their fighting styles could be clearly seen, the officers said.

According to Mainz, the Marines try to be “fast and vicious,” while the Israeli paratroopers took a slower approach, scanning an area for potential improvised explosive devices before entering.

Semel said one of the benefits of the two units training together is they got to see the other’s techniques and adopt the methods as new “tools in our toolbox.”

An Israeli paratrooper takes part in a training exercise with US Marines during the joint Israeli-US military Juniper Cobra exercise at the Tze’elim urban warfare training center in southern Israel, on March 12, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“Each situation has a different way to solve it. We are teaching our soldiers to think and solve the problem the best way they can,” the lieutenant said.

“Sometimes it’s good to wait and search for IEDs or to just go in quickly,” he said.

The planning for the exercise began approximately six months ago, with officers from the different units meeting to discuss their goals and ideas.

The Paratroopers-Marines exercise is scheduled to wrap up on Thursday, but other aspects of the Juniper Cobra exercise will continue to the end of March.

Israel hosts the Juniper Cobra exercise every two years, bringing together thousands of US military and IDF troops to prepare for a ballistic missile attack on the State of Israel.

This year’s is the ninth such exercise.

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