Report – Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (Post 2014)

Iraq's Post-2014 Counter Terrorism Service, by David M. Witty, October 2018, The Washington Institute

A recently published report (October 2018) details the history, organization, and missions of Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (CTS). David M. Witty, a retired Special Forces officer and constant observer of Iraq’s fight with the Islamic State (ISIS), provides us with a 96-page (pdf) paper on the CTS. The reports full title is Iraq’s Post-2014 Counter Terrorism Service. It is available on the website of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The report provides a detailed account of the CTS ( there are 434 end notes) and the events that occurred from 2014 (beginning of ISIS campaign for Iraq and Syria) to the present day (Oct 2018). The author, David Witty, has previously written a detailed history of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces and the CTS from its beginning (then the ICTF and 36th Commando Battalion) in 2003 through 2014. [1]

The CTS is a force of about 10,000 men and it was central to the defeat of ISIS in Iraq – taking part in all the major battles to retake the major cities of Iraq that had fallen to ISIS since 2014 – to include the months long brutal fight for Mosul. Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service, a creation of U.S. SOF, received significant support from the U.S. during the fight against ISIS. It “. . . stands as a validation of the U.S. ‘by, with, and through’ concept of using local forces to conduct ground combat . . .”

Despite the great success of the CTS over the past four years there is danger of its effectiveness and capability being diminished. While it performed extremely well as a conventional urban combat force in recent years, the author – David Witty, cautions that it needs to return to its core mission of counterterrorism.

The paper examines in its six chapters the following:

  • Chapter One – Introduction
  • Chapter Two – Changes During the Islamic State Campaign
  • Chapter Three – The CTS as an Institution
  • Chapter Four – Training, Recruitment, and Casualties
  • Chapter Five – The Present and Future CTS
  • Chapter Six – Analysis and Recommendations

The concluding chapter provides some excellent recommendations. Special operations veterans will recognize themes associated with the ‘by, with, and through’ concept. These include consistent advisory efforts, permanent advisor teams that repeatedly conduct tours with the same host nation units year after year, and a well-entrenched training and education foundation to a SOF force. Witty comments on CTS force size, interservice coordination, and how the US experience with Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service could be applied to other regional countries facing terrorism challenges. This is a comprehensive read on the CTS and will certainly add to the knowledge level of those interested in the SOF units of Iraq.

The report’s author, David Witty, served as an SF and Foreign Area Officer. He has more than twelve years of experience working in the Middle East. He is an adjunct professor at Norwich University’s Online Security Studies Program. He tweets on a daily basis on the ongoing political, diplomatic, and military events in Iraq at @DavidMWitty1.



[1] David Witty, The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (Washington DC: Brookings institution, 2015),


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