Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Quasi-War With ISIL

As the president seeks new legislation to authorize our fight with ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the war goes on.

In Syria, Assad's forces are making gains at the expense of our Southern Front rebels:

Bolstered by the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah and its patrons in Tehran, the Syrian Army continued its rapid advance into southern Syria today, inching closer to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

"Regime troops and their Hezbollah-led allies are advancing in the area linking Daraa, Quneitra and Damascus provinces," close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

That's interesting. Assad has moved his scarce shock troops--Hezbollah--a long way from their usual deployment areas.

We'll see if Assad suffers any losses in other areas as he plays whack-a-mole down south.

In Iraq, ISIL has taken action near a base in Anbar where our Marines are training Iraqi forces:

Islamic State insurgents took control on Thursday of large parts of the western Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi, threatening an air base where U.S. Marines are training Iraqi troops, officials said.

Al-Baghdadi, about 85 km (50 miles) northwest of Ramadi in Anbar province, has been besieged for months by the radical Sunni Islamist militants who captured vast swathes of northern and western Iraq last year.

In the north, Kurdish forces have pushed closer to Mosul but will not fight for the city:

While the Iraqi government talks about retaking Mosul Kurdish forces have managed to surround the city on three sides and taken control of several key roads and bridges. At the moment the Kurds say they do not intend to try and capture the city itself.

The Kurds don't want to suffer the casualties to take that large city from fanatical ISIL defenders and doubts they'd be rewarded by Baghdad for taking the city.

So the Kurds are the anvil against which the Iraq summer offensive hammer will strike ISIL to retake the city:

Meanwhile foreign military trainers and advisors are working hard to prepare the Iraqi security forces for the effort to liberate Mosul. This would be a major campaign and the current plan is to get it started around June. By then The Kurds will nearly have the city cut off from the surrounding countryside. The Arab Iraqi advance from the south would complete the siege and trigger a major response from ISIL. Iran, Western nations and Arab allies of Iraq have all agreed that the Battle of Mosul must be fought, at least on the ground, by Iraqi troops alone. So success depends on how well Iraq can shape up their ground forces in the next few months.

Which is the reverse of what I'd do if this was a paper exercise. I'd want the Kurds who are better and more reliable to take Mosul which would cut off ISIL further south and make an Iraqi advance from the Baghdad region north easier.

But in reality, the Kurds are willing to play a supporting role only, it seems.

And the Kurds have made more gains than I thought.

Unmentioned is what we might do in Anbar--which I suspect will receive our attention first, hopefully with Jordan leading the advance from the west.

ISIL has attracted a lot of recruits (odd how they did that when we aren't in Syria and had left Iraq, isn't it?):

Foreign fighters are streaming into Syria and Iraq in unprecedented numbers to join the Islamic State or other extremist groups, including at least 3,400 from Western nations among 20,000 from around the world, U.S. intelligence officials say in an updated estimate of a top terrorism concern.

Not that these are enough to really control increasingly hostile locals in the face of a real offensive by sufficiently competent ground forces.

So the war goes on. I suspect all eyes are on Mosul while we prepare for that attack and work on protecting the left flank of a drive north (and protecting Baghdad itself) by hitting ISIL in Anbar.

But I may be connecting dots that have no relation to each other.

And then we will find out if the war on the Syria branch of ISIL envisions Assad as our new partner or sees Assad as just a different enemy that must be defeated, too.

The evidence for the latter may be completely imaginary dots, I admit.

UPDATE: While I can believe that Jordan is already running out of bombs to drop, I'd like to believe that this is a cover explanation to ship in supplies and equipment needed for a Jordanian ground thrust into Iraq:

The United States is readying plans to resupply Jordan with munitions in the coming weeks, possibly including precision-guided arms, expediting support for the kingdom as it expands its role in airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS), officials say.

Many of our allies don't have war reserve stocks and count on us to resupply them. Of course, we kind of like that to prevent our allies from starting wars that we might have to finish. There was one Indo-Pakistan war that I recall (1965?) when the Pakistanis secretly saved up ammunition we supplied intended for training in order to build up a war reserve stock in order to go to war.

But I digress.

It is perfectly plausible that Jordan needs precision bombs and that is the only thing they will get.

But if a joint Jordan-Iraqi ground offensive into Anbar is coming, this would be cover to ship other stuff, too.

UPDATE: We really need to address Anbar soon:

An Iraqi tribal leader said Saturday that ISIS militants are gaining ground in Anbar province, predicting a "collapse within hours" of Iraqi army forces there if tribal forces withdraw.

Sheikh Naim al-Gaoud, a Sunni Muslim leader of the Albu Nimr tribe, called for more U.S. intervention -- including ground troops, arming tribes directly or at least pressuring the Iraqi government to give the tribes more firepower.

While U.S. officials have said that ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State, is on the defensive in Iraq and Syria, al-Gaoud says that's definitely not the case where he is.

"In Anbar, we are losing ground, not gaining," he said.

We need those Sunni Arab tribes to eject ISIL from Anbar. If they collapse, a pure conventional attack will be much harder and take a lot more time.

We did just commit Apache gunships to the battle in Anbar at al-Baghdadi, which ISIL just took near that large Iraqi base they attacked.

I may be wrong, but is this the first time Army assets have been used?

These are boots hovering near the ground, anyway. Is this a sign we're transitioning to ground operations (with non-US maneuver units, mind you)?

UPDATE: Egypt checks in formally in Libya, where they've been quietly helping non-jihadis in the civil war there:

Egyptian jets bombed Islamic State targets in Libya on Monday, a day after the group there released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians, drawing Cairo directly into the conflict across its border.

Egypt said the dawn strike hit militant camps, training sites and weapons storage areas in neighboring Libya, where civil conflict has plunged the country into near anarchy and created havens for armed factions.

During the Iran-Iraq War, Egypt helped Arab Iraq against Persian Iran in order to regain stature lost from the peace treaty with Israel and regain their leadership role in the Arab world.

In the Persian Gulf War, the Egyptians sent two heavy divisions to Saudi Arabia to roll into Kuwait. I don't think they engaged the iraqis, but they did go.

So it isn't out of left field to suggest that Egypt could send (paid for by Saudi Arabia) a couple mechanized brigades to Iraq to help with an offensive against ISIL in Iraq.

UPDATE: We aren't going to provide a maneuver unit for the war despite this news:

More than 4,000 Fort Carson soldiers are heading to Kuwait, where they will take over as one of America's largest ground forces in the region after President Barack Obama asked Congress to authorize military action against terrorists who are cutting a large swath across the Middle East.

We've kept a heavy brigade there since we left Iraq in 2011, and this is just the latest rotation. It's really just an emergency force that could be used in an emergency inside Iraq that might require a heavy escort to move US people out of Baghdad.

And it deters any Iranian impulse to move into southern Iraq and hang a left.

But it does not signal any increased American effort in the war against ISIL in Iraq.

UPDATE: Bahrain will join the United Arab Emirates in sending planes to Jordan to help with the bombing campaign.

Are these contingents going to Jordan to supplement Jordan's air power to support a ground drive into Anbar from the West (or perhaps conduct operations in Syria to free up Jordan's aircraft for ground support)?

UPDATE: And relevant to Assad's commitment of his still-scarce ground troops to the south that started this post, Assad wants to protect the far north while his troops are busy near Jordan and Israel:

The United Nations envoy to Syria said Tuesday he has received a commitment from the Syrian government to suspend airstrikes and artillery shelling on the city of Aleppo for six weeks to allow a proposed U.N. plan to "freeze" hostilities in the country's largest city to be tested.

Rest assured, Assad hopes to succeed in the south during that time so he can shift his shock troops back north.