Monday, November 10, 2014


As I've noted before, we will enable the Iraqis to spearhead a ground offensive that we will support with air power gathered from our forces and allies.

This article discusses the expansion of our Iraq effort:

The Iraqi military has been active in recent weeks, but these operations have taken a toll on its forces. United States officials say that the initial force they are planning to advise consists of only nine Iraqi brigades and three similar Kurdish pesh merga units — roughly 24,000 troops.

The counterattack plan calls for at least doubling that force by adding three divisions, each of which could range from 8,000 to 12,000 troops.

The United States is relying on allies to augment American trainers. Australia, Canada and Norway have committed several hundred special forces to one or more of the training or advisory missions, a senior United States military official said.

This will be achieved by doubling our troop commitment to Iraq to about 3,000. Which is still less than the 5,000 that Strategypage once reported as the likely end-of-year total.

And the news does answer a question I had of whether our plans to advise 3 divisions (3 division headquarters and 9 brigades under their command) would be augmented by advisors from our allies. Apparently, that is the case.

I assume when we first intervened our initial focus was on an advance in the north supported by the Kurds, but since then the plight of Anbar Sunni Arabs has led us to expand the scope of our efforts to exploit regional anger against ISIL before ISIL terror can crush resistance, hobbling any effort to eject ISIL from the west.

Yet we didn't have enough advisors to support enough troops for a major effort from the Baghdad region going north and a major effort advancing west.

So now we'll have 18 Iraqi brigades and 3 Kurdish brigades to launch the offensive in the spring.

I'll guess 3 Iraqi divisions advance north to support the Kurdish force spearheading an advance southwest with a focus on Mosul; while 3 Iraqi divisions advance west into Anbar where a Sunni Re-Awakening is ready to break out after nearly a year of getting what they wished--"liberation" by ISIL.

That leaves 6 or so decent Iraqi brigades in reserve and a couple dozen that are good for static security roles only because of poor and/or sectarian leadership.

I assume some of the Shia militias will be shock troops for the offensive while most will be static security forces.

Other security duties will be taken on by new regional defense forces (from that first link):

A parallel effort calls for establishing new national guard brigades in each of Iraq’s 18 provinces — units that would report to the local governors and have the primary responsibility for securing those areas after the Iraqi Army has mounted its counteroffensive.

Hopefully, this provides a framework to arm Sunni Arabs for that Re-Awakening and to restrain Shia militias from being pawns of Iran.

This planning rests on holding the front where we need jumping off points to begin offensives.

The Iraqis do seem to have stabilized the front at the borders of Sunni Arab ethnic areas, and even clawed back some ground:

Today, roughly a third of Iraq is dotted by active battle fronts, with intense fighting and occasional Islamic State victories. But analysts also say the days of easy and rapid gains for the jihadists may be coming to a close in Iraq, as the group’s momentum appears to be stalling.

Yet if reporting that there is a spring offensive coming is right, the new training won't have 9 Iraqi brigades and three Kurdish brigades ready in time, since just the training of the brigades will take 6-7 months:

Well, you now, between eight and 10 months, you know, total, depending on, again, how long it takes to get the sites prepared and the curriculum set and trainers in place. And it's going to, you know, it's going to take us a little bit of time to get the personnel inside Iraq. I mean, we can move quickly, but it is, you know, it's going to take some weeks to get them all there.

So will it be a phased offensive? Perhaps changed priorities mean it will kick off first in Anbar province in spring 2015 since the Kurdish units won't be online to spearhead that front for perhaps 10 months? And then we'll focus on the north later in 2015 when the new training program is finished?

I know that with all this training, it is common to say that Iraq's army can't fight, so this is why we have to intervene. But it is more that we failed to maintain what we build. The skill and training of the Iraqi army probably peaked in December 2011, the month we left. Iraq historically has not had an army that anyone would really boast about. The best that could be said is that against Iran in 1988 it (barely) got the job done.

I'll note that in the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, the Iraqis found that most of their army was largely incapable of offensive warfare after many years of holding fortifications along the front to hold off the Iranian attacks (a similar thing happened on the Western Front in World War I, so I'm not just picking on the Iraqi army which had to get good at holding those fortifications, at the expense of other capabilities).

In response, the Iraqis expanded the small Republican Guard force from being the most loyal troops designed to protect the regime against an army coup to a 6-division force designed to be the offensive spearhead of the Iraqi army.

And now we will re-train (not create from scratch as the article implies) three more Iraqi divisions out of the half of the Iraqi army we judged salvageable in the near term from corruption and sectarian influences that have crippled the Iraqi army to such a visible result in the first half of 2014.

I think this could work--if we remain focused.

And assuming that ISIL patiently waits for our spring offensive to begin rather than seize the initiative (again) to preempt our offensive. Remember that France's offensive in Mali had to take place nearly a year ahead of their plan when the jihadis launched an offensive south.

UPDATE: North of Baghdad, Iraqi forces seem to be clawing back territory around a critical refinery the Iraqis held as the front line after the initial ISIL offensive:

Iraqi military forces reached the center of the northern city of Baiji on Sunday in an effort to break an Islamic State siege of the country's biggest refinery, triggering fierce clashes with the militants, according to an army colonel and a witness.

There hasn't been a lightning counter-attack, but just pushing the jihadis back tarnishes the image of the jihadis and renews Iraqi confidence.

UPDATE: General Dempsey, visiting Iraq, concurs:

Dempsey said it had been crucial to show Islamic State was not an unstoppable, 10-foot-tall force and instead "a bunch of midgets running around with a really radical ideology".

Jihadis are dangerous because they don't fear death. That can cause terror and panic in their foes.

But once soldiers are steady enough not to run from the jihadis, that downright eagerness of jihadis to die is their weak point.

UPDATE: One more late update. Iraqi forces have clawed back territory around the besieged garrison at Baiji:

Iraqi forces broke the Islamic State group's months-long siege of the country's largest oil refinery Saturday as America's top officer flew in to discuss the expanding war against the jihadists.

Completely expelling IS fighters from the area around the refinery would be another significant achievement for Baghdad, a day after pro-government forces retook the nearby town of Baiji.

This is good. Iraq needs better ground forces to make liberating their territory a more rapid process.