Friday, February 20, 2015

The Shiny Objects

There will be a spring offensive to take Mosul, according to CENTCOM. Mosul is the shiny object. Is it the immediate objective or the distraction?

There is some anguish in conservative circles that we are telegraphing our intentions. But it is hardly a secret that we want to retake Mosul and are preparing to do that. I can't get worked up about it.

My question is whether the Mosul operation is really the first operation. Could we be trying to conceal an Anbar-first operation to take advantage of Jordanian anger and to help the distressed Sunni Arab tribes in Anbar who have been under attack for over a year now?

In any case, this briefing establishes the outline of a Mosul operation:

What we know as of right now is there -- in the attack force, there will be five Iraqi army brigades, there will be three smaller brigades that will comprise a reserve force, there will be three Pesh brigades that will help contain from the north and isolate from the west, and then there will be what we're calling a Mosul fighting force, which will be compromised of largely police and tribal that are being put together right now of mostly former Mosul police, and then finally, a brigade equivalent of CTS forces.

Which is similar to what I wrote about a few weeks ago:

So the attack north from the Baghdad region will be with 2 divisions and 5 brigades, I think.

That leaves us with another division headquarters and 4 advised brigades for a thrust from the Kurdish region aimed at Mosul.

It is still unclear if we will be allowed to put forward observers with the advancing Iraqi and Kurdish units to make best use of our air power. Perhaps we'll use Canadians, other allies, CIA, and contractors so we won't officially have "boots on the ground." Ridiculous, I know.

And Iraqi forces we don't advise can follow to garrison and hold ground taken and support local anti-ISIL Sunni Arab militias.

We have to be careful with the pro-Iran Shia militias that are part of Iraq's ground forces. I'd try to burn them as shock troops and keep them away from garrison duties in Sunni Arab areas.

The briefing notes the forward observer issue. We'll see.

And it speaks of a force dedicated to operating inside Mosul, composed of police who fled Mosul plus I assume Sunni Arab tribal light infantry. Plus the good counter-terrorism service (CTS) forces who remained pretty good despite the general erosion of Iraqi ground units since we left Iraq in 2011.

I even mentioned the CTS when I was searching for the core forces that could lead a mechanized force north, but hoped they wouldn't be wasted as a conventional maneuver unit. They won't be. They'll spearhead the city fight, it seems.

There is no mention of Shia militias.

I guess one brigade we advise is uncommitted in the north.

And the briefing confirms that existing Iraqi brigades not currently in training will be the spearhead. Newly trained units will replace those existing brigades on the line, undergo some training, and then go into battle.

I'll say again that I'd rather have the Kurds be the main effort from the north, but apparently the Kurds have no interest in enduring casualties in street battles inside the city. So they'll be a blocking force, it seems, with any offensive operations designed to get into better blocking positions rather than pushing into Mosul.

But we aren't the only force training Iraqis for offensive operations. What about the others?

The briefer dismissed immediate concerns about Anbar. But Marines are in Anbar training Iraqis (at a large base largely surrounded). These don't appear to be part of the 9 brigades and 3 division headquarters we are training and advising as part of the Mosul operation.

And what about the Canadians, British, and Australians and whoever else is in Iraq training Iraqi units? Could our trainers be other shiny objects we want people (ISIL) looking at?

I still expect an Anbar first operation to help the Sunni Arab tribes there who have had a year to get angry at ISIL, whereas the northern Sunni Arabs have only had about half a year to get antsy. The northern Sunni Arabs might need the encouragement of seeing an ISIL defeat in Anbar first.

This would help secure Baghdad from ISIL terrorism in nearby eastern Anbar positions.

Plus, as I've been going on about for a while, an Anbar operation would allow the Jordanians to make good on their vows to get revenge on ISIL for burning their pilot to death. A spasm of bombing won't cut it, on that issue.

The timing could be that rather than going north in April or May we'll go west. Or maybe the Anbar operation will take place imminently to allow time for success prior to the April-May Mosul operation timeframe.

I guess there could be a simultaneous offensive north and west. That would exploit the focus on Mosul, too. We certainly have the airpower to support both (plus Syria).

Or it could be exactly as it seems. We'll go north first in April or May. There is always tension between guessing what I'd do and what we will do (and what is possible to do).

One more thing, what's with this "we have to avoid fighting during Ramadan" BS? The Left constantly said it was inconceivable to do that, but every Ramadan while we were fighting in Iraq there would be a surge of casualties as the enemy attacked more during Ramadan. And don't forget that Arabs call the 1973 Egyptian and Syrian attack on Israel the "Ramadan War."

Wait. One more thing. Strategypage has written (in this post, for example) that ISIL has lost a lot of ground in Iraq. But that isn't my impression even if it does seem as if ISIL's hold is loosening.

The briefing above says  ISIL has lost 700-800 square kilometers of territory--which is a tiny fraction of Iraq's total 437,072 square kilometers. I'm not sure what fraction of Iraq that ISIL captured in Anbar and the north (outside of the Kurdish region), but the liberated terrain is miniscule.

I don't get the differing interpretations of ground control, unless Strategypage is saying that ISIL has lost effective control of territory to rebellious Sunni Arabs because ISIL is pulling back into bigger cities and towns, even if Iraq hasn't moved in to re-establish control. That seems the most plausible explanation.

Anyway, there will be action soon. Somewhere.

UPDATE: I don't understand the anguish about the details.

All the pieces of the puzzle have been published and Mosul is the obvious ultimate objective.

Does anybody think that ISIL doesn't anticipate an effort against Mosul from the south and north?

Lord knows I'm no fan of this administration. But this line of attack is complaining for the sake of complaining.

And it rests on the assumption that we will do exactly what we said we will do in a couple months or so.

UPDATE: France's aircraft carrier entered the Persian Gulf:

French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91) has entered the Persian Gulf and could soon start strike missions against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) fighters, defense officials told USNI News on Friday.

Two things.

One, if the French wanted to strike targets in Syria or even around Mosul, they would have remained in the Mediterranean Sea.

So the ship is there to strike targets in the more southern parts of Iraq, unless the French intend to fly the planes to land bases and are just using the carrier as a plane ferry.

Two, when the French send their carrier, they can't rotate another to replace it the way we do.

So France will want to take their shots relatively soon before it needs to return to port empty handed. Again, unless the ship is being used as a plane ferry.

So this news doesn't persuade me that action isn't pending in Iraq, quite possibly against ISIL in Anbar.