Wednesday, September 17, 2014

We Can Re-Win the Iraq War

Strategypage expects we will have at least 5,000 troops in Iraq by the end of the year doing the things I've discussed: advising, calling in air strikes, rescuing downed air crews, and protecting our facilities. They expect even more contractors doing these things--and even perhaps direct combat if needed. And allied forces.

Syria is a different matter and there is no indication that our forces will go inside Syria.

That's fine. As I've written, I think Syria is a supporting theater to the main front in Iraq. Strikes in Syria can be done with remote recon and air power with only occasional support on the ground for special missions.

I also expect that we will actually have other troops involved in the campaign who won't count because they will be stationed in Kuwait, Jordan, and afloat.

Once Iraq is re-won, by then we may have better non-jihadi Syrian rebels and we can look at ramping up our support inside Syria for these guys.

Hopefully, Assad's forces will have bled even more and will be at risk of collapsing as they see their advances over the last year meaning nothing as a whole new war requires them to bleed even more. Can Assad's small base of support withstand that kind of pressure?

The Washington Post doesn't think we are committed enough to win:

Mr. Obama is right to seek the empowerment of the Iraqi and Syrian forces and to fashion a broad agenda for a regional alliance. But in the end the Islamic State will have to be defeated on the battlefield. In that respect, the alliance the administration is constructing looks underpowered.

Far be it for me to stand as an Obama supporter, but if we do all the quiet things we need to do on the ground--withholding only formed units for conventional combat--I think we can smash up ISIL in Iraq relying on locals and regional allies for formed combat units to exploit our air power.

I think we can help screen leadership in three Iraqi divisions to provide a core force to strike north from the Baghdad region and to strike southwest from the Kurdish region with Kurdish forces who  need arms and logistics more than leadership reform.

And our air power, of course.

Remember, part of the success I expect requires us to re-Awaken enough Sunni Arabs in the ISIL area who once again see the joys of living under jihadi rule. ISIL may have 30,000 forces, but 2/3 are local recruits who could melt away if we hammer ISIL hard enough and if enough Sunni Arabs defect to our side.

Syria is another matter altogether. Currently anticipated support probably isn't enough and it certainly will take much longer to show effects. But just helping the rebels could be demoralize the Assad backers to collapse their will to fight on.

UPDATE: Oh, and one more thing. Our air power will be key to sustaining ground drives by our local allies. We got very good at aerial precision resupply in Afghanistan. We will need to use this capability to keep the ground forces moving to fully exploit our ground support and air attacks.

UPDATE: Already, the administration is bowing to reality on its "no ground troops" pledge:

"I want to be clear. The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission," Obama said in a speech at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

His spokesman Josh Earnest said some U.S. military advisers could be deployed to forward positions to help direct Iraqi security forces and call in air strikes, but said they would "not be personally or directly engaging the enemy."

I knew that there was no way to enforce that pledge and still carry out an effective intervention.

I'm beginning to think that if President Obama sent XVIII Airborne Corps to Iraq, Josh Earnest would insist that they didn't count as boots on the ground for some odd reason.

UPDATE: As long as I'm defending the campaign against ISIL--assuming it follows my Win-Build-Win formula--I'm not worried that President Obama is acting like LBJ choosing targets for our bombing campaign in North Vietnam.

What I take from that is that President Obama does not want to prematurely expand the war from Iraq to Syria. I assume the military has to justify any attack in Syria as important to the active Iraq campaign. And I'm fine with that. We're a year away from being able to focus on Syria.

Remember, there is no word that the president is exercising similar control in Iraq raids.

My thinking is that we win in Iraq, using Kurds and America-bolstered Iraqi troops (and any Arab troops that come in--Jordan, can you spare a mechanized brigade?) and allied air support.

While we do that, we build up the Syrian opposition. Air strikes in Syria would almost exclusively be to support the fight in Iraq by hitting key supplies and personnel of ISIL so they don't affect the Iraq campaign.

Then we win in Syria, fighting ISIL while continuing to strengthen the non-jihadi rebels so that they can defeat Assad.

At that point, I'm sure that the president won't be signing off on strikes inside Syria.

It may be that we might need US combat brigades. Remember that the French hoped to get regional forces to spearhead the drive in Mali. But jihadi advances compelled France to move the offensive date well forward and do the job themselves.

I don't think that will happen to us, but it could.

Of course, all my defense of the president on this goes away if the campaign ends the day after the November election.