CNN news correspondent and cameraman escape death in Mosul, the last major stronghold for ISIS in Iraq
By Robert Brown and Kellen Constantino
On November 3, 2016, Iraqi troops entered Mosul after weeks of fighting across the plains and in towns outside the city. CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon and cameraman Brice Laine were embedded with the Iraqi special forces driving in an armored vehicle into eastern Mosul to take back the streets from ISIS. There was room for only two journalists, so Lister stayed behind at their CNN workspace outside the city.
“Until November, no one had tested Mosul forces as of yet,” CNN senior producer Tim Lister told our War Reporting class in a Skype interview on Wednesday.
“On the Friday Arwa went in, it was the first and worst time. It was chaos from the get go,” he said.
ISIS fighters ambushed the Iraqi convoy and surrounded it on three sides. Under heavy enemy fire, one of the Iraqi armored vehicles blew up. Then their own truck took a hit. Their escape route was blocked. Damon and Laine ducked in one house after another until ending up in a house with a family with kids. They were trapped inside for more than 24 hours. And ISIS was right across the street shooting into the windows.
“ISIS would like nothing more than a reporter in an orange jumpsuit locked in a basement for months,” Lister said. “CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN were lucky to get out alive that day.”
While trapped, Damon was able to get a cell signal and send a text to Lister detailing their position. Shortly afterward, U.S. airstrikes began. A series of loud explosions followed. Iraqi soldiers kept the news team informed on what was occurring outside. The airstrikes flattened the homes around them containing ISIS soldiers. After the bombing stopped, the team rushed outside into rescue vehicles along with the wounded and were taken from the battle zone.
“Thirty-three people were killed, and five were wounded in that raid,” Lister said.
Damon escaped unharmed. Laine was injured after being grazed by a bullet.
Click photo to watch the video of CNN under fire in Mosul.
Lister shed light on the decision-making process on the outskirts of Mosul, and explained how things went from bad to worse.
“The Mosul campaign was a lot like Mad Max 3,” he said. “The Iraqis were down on guys and equipment. The soldiers were tired and shell-shocked and perhaps not as tactically cognizant as the ISIS fighters were.”
He said poor leadership may have also led to disaster.
“The ISF commander wanted to look like the hero and charge in,” Lister said. “He sent his guys right up that alley and maybe didn’t realize he was putting them in a pretty bad situation.”
According to Lister, Damon and Laine are scheduled to go back into the same area of Mosul within the next few weeks. He says they want to check on the family that helped protect them during the ambush.
“Next time they go in, they will take more security and also medics,” Lister said.