Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mission Being Accomplished?

While I think that in the long run our strategy (if I'm right about it) to defeat ISIL could work, in the short run we could face defeats. Defeats that could undermine carrying out the long-term strategy.

I guess the Obama administration thinks we need to stay the course in Iraq:

White House press secretary Josh Earnest insisted that the president’s plan against ISIS was “succeeding.”

“We’re in the early days of the execution of that strategy,” he said. “But certainly, the early evidence indicates that this strategy is succeeding.”

Earnest pointed to two pieces of evidence for that claim from Iraq: the achievement of dislodging ISIS’s control of the critical Mosul Dam and the evacuation of embattled Yazidi civilians from Mount Sinjar.

But other events on the ground are not cooperating with the White House’s preferred narrative.

Defense officials acknowledged Tuesday that ISIS forces now have “relative freedom of influence throughout” Anbar province, after killing its police chief and taking over a military base.

“It’s hard to say how close Anbar is to falling,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said Tuesday. “We know that ISIS can move freely around the Anbar province.”

On Tuesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno expressed reservations about the Iraqi military’s ability to protect its nation’s capital, Baghdad, saying he was “somewhat” confident they could do so.

In the long run, I think our strategy can work. At least if I am correctly reading that we are carrying out a strategy that I've called Win, Build, Win.

But surviving the short run is the problem. While the Kurds in the north are proving to be a capable ground ally, the problem of finding a core ground force to exploit our air power in the center and west still eludes us.

And if we can't get Jordan to provide a core force, we have to wait until we can retrain 3 Iraqi divisions to be that core offensive force.

Until then, the Iraqi army we have and not the Iraqi army we wish we had must hold the line against the ISIL fanatics who keep capturing Iraqi bases in Anbar.

I suspect--as I have since ISIL's Mosul region successes--that the threat to Baghdad isn't nearly as dire as some make out, but I can't be sure given ISIL advances during 2014.

Nor can I be sure that continued ISIL victories won't again crack Iraqi morale.

And apart from the simple battlefield balance, we have to keep Shia fanatics from undermining the ability to get Sunni tribes to re-Awaken to support a counter-offensive when we are ready. This is a real problem to executing our strategy:

Iraq's Shiite militias have abducted and killed scores of Sunni civilians with the tacit support of the government in retaliation for Islamic State group attacks, Amnesty International said Tuesday, as a suicide car bombing claimed by the Sunni extremists killed 23 people, including a Shiite lawmaker.

It's not large-scale--yet--but this could nullify ISIL's atrocities that provide the foundation for getting Iraq's Sunni Arabs to side with the Iraqi government.

We need forward air controllers on the ground to help the Iraqis hold the line north and west of Baghdad and claw back territory from ISIL both to break ISIL sieges of Iraqi bases and to give Sunni Arabs hope that our side can win.

If not, we'll never get beyond the early days of executing our strategy--and so lose the Iraq war that we had won by 2008 and which we still had within our power to defend at a low cost in 2011.