Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pivot to Killing Jihadis

This ISIL invasion of northern Iraq was more of an uprising by Sunni Arabs that the mobile forces of ISIL supported and exploited. Without uprisings to weaken the Iraqi security forces, ISIL doesn't seem like it can gain and then hold much more territory.

Soon after the uprising began, I doubted that the media fears that ISIL was about to bounce Baghdad would come true. A retired Marine general thinks the worst is over:

The worst of the insurgency in Iraq is "over", a former general who commanded US Marines and British forces in the 2003 US-led invasion said Friday, in a rare note of optimism over the crisis.

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual conference of Iran's exiled opposition -- in which he was a guest speaker -- General James Conway said the insurgents who have overrun major parts of Iraq were unlikely to make any further significant gains.

His point out, as I and others have noted, that the success is in Sunni Arab regions and now ISIL is up against Kurdish and Shia-majority areas where local support will be scarce.

He also anticipates friction between the locals who rose up and ISIL jihadis.

I think this is right on the money.

Let me also add that all that hand wringing that ISIL captured lots of equipment from the Iraqi army ignores the fact that once the vehicles break down, who repairs them? Who has the spare parts? Logistical support is critical to keeping an army's armored vehicles and trucks just running.

That's one reason I wanted our troops in Iraq after 2011 and why I want troops to remain in Afghanistan for longer than we plan.

The money (especially), small arms, and ammo that ISIL took are far more significant. The heavier stuff needs to be used before it wears out.

Iraqi forces are gathering and regrouping in Baghdad and the front to the north, and have even counter-attacked.

Much depends on how many Sunni Arabs rose up to benefit from the ISIL mobile force. (As an aside, ISIL's success against static Iraqi garrisons shows why I've been pining for a rebel mobile force for the Syrian rebels.)

And whether the Iraqis can find a mobile force to spearhead their drive north.

But do stop panicking about the Iraqi army. It was never very good. Which is why our invasion was a cake walk.

Yes. The invasion was historically a cake walk, notwithstanding the subsequent Syrian and Iranian intervention to support Baathist and Sadrist resistance, and to funnel al Qaeda in to slaughter and wreak havoc. We speak of the "Splendid Little War" with Spain in 1898, do we not? Yet insurgency in the Philippines raged for years and our casualties dwarfed the conventional war's death toll.

But I digress.

We made Iraq's troops better than they ever were, but it wasn't equipped and trained to be more of an army than a counter-insurgency light infantry force. And without us there to sustain the progress we made--training is only as good as what your latest recruits receive after the better trained troops leave the service, after all--the Iraqi army lost its quality edge while not getting the firepower to make up a little of that.

We'll see how many of Iraq's 900,000 ground security forces are actual soldiers rather than glorified security guards.

Remember, dividing up Iraq merely ratifies the Sunni Arab jihadi gains before we can react and help the Iraqis fight back effectively. It is giving up in the face of a setback.

That is not how a superpower should react to events on the ground in Iraq. It's worse than an immoral decision to abandon people to the tender mercies of jihadi nutballs. It's a mistake.

Work the problem. Kill jihadis. If they are going to mass to take territory, the least we can do is kill as many as possible while there is a target-rich environment.