Tuesday, September 01, 2015

We are Giving Our Enemy Time

Could we develop a sense of urgency about defeating ISIL?

Consider the timeline of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacked us at home, while hunkered down in their Afghanistan haven. It was a jihadi state that hated us.

On October 7, 2001, we began our offensive on the other side of the world to destroy the haven and the Taliban government that shielded al Qaeda.

By mid November,  the Taliban were crumbling, losing the capital, Kabul along with other strongholds.

By late December, al Qaeda was fleeing Afghanistan, with an interim friendly Afghan government formed on December 5 and the Taliban government considered destroyed on December 9.

So call it three months from being attacked to destroying the terrorist state in one of the most remote places on Earth.

So how is the fight against ISIL--which our president has pledged to destroy--going?

I won't even count the initial jihadi surge into Anbar province in early January 2014 that we ignored.

But in mid-June 2014,  Mosul and the north fell to ISIL and our government finally figured something was wrong.

By mid-August 2014, we decided to intervene with the first tentative bombing attacks to protect civilians in Iraq.

The reasons to bomb in Iraq expanded gradually and eventually expanded in scope to Syria. And recently expanded there to include bombing Assad's forces, if necessary.

And now, more than a year after we first intervened and 14 months after the attacks that got our attention, ISIL still holds their new state that spans large portions of Syria and Iraq.

I don't understand why it is taking us so long to defeat ISIL when we have allied ground forces that we could help in Iraq. I can understand why it would take longer to defeat ISIL in Syria, but what is holding us back in Iraq?

Now let's look at the air strike effort.  We've dropped an average of 43 bombs per day as of mid-August 2015.

Compare this to daily rates of 6,163 for Desert Storm in 1991; 60 for Bosnia in 1995; 364 for Kosovo in 1999; 230 for the initial Afghanistan campaign noted above; 1,039 for the nearly 4-week conventional campaign in Iraq in 2003; and 36 for the 7-month Libya air campaign.

I don't  really count 1991 or 2003 since those were air campaigns against a mechanized enemy army in direct support of large numbers of American combat troops.

And 90% (if memory serves me) of the bombs dropped in 1991 were dumb bombs which we simply don't use these days.

Kosovo I don't count since it was an exercise in coercive bombing designed to compel Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo.

Bosnia was really Concern Theater that paled in comparison to a successful Croatian and Bosnian Moslem offensive that essentially drove the Serbs from key contested territory.

[UPDATE: By chance, while reading Reconsidering the American Way of War (Echevarria), I see it noted that in 1991, under 9% of bombs dropped were precision, while in Bosnia it was 31% and for Kosovo, it was 35%.]

We've improved on the Libya effort. So we see the difference in this administration between leading from behind in 2011 and our leadership in 2014-2015.

But it is hard to compare since I still don't know what we hoped to achieve in that war. Humanitarian? How's that working out? Defeat Khadaffi? Officially we couldn't do that. But we did. Ongoing multi-faction civil war with actors more unsavory than Khadaffi is the result. Punish a dictator for voluntarily giving up his weapons of mass destruction programs? Check!

The only campaign I'd really compare this to is Afghanistan 2001. Small numbers of American troops supported local allies with money and smart bombs to rout the Taliban government and cripple al Qaeda, forcing them to flee to Pakistan and Iran.

And there our effort was more than 5 times greater than the current effort against ISIL.

I once heard a reporter defend our record by saying that it is tougher to use air power against a guerrilla force. That's true. But we are facing an enemy state in control of vast territory and not an insurgency operating within friendly territory.

ISIL has a largely motorized light infantry army of perhaps 30,000 jihadis supported by car bomb shock troops and the usual terrorism tactics.

And while we hope that ISIL rules over a restive population that would like to see ISIL ejected, that doesn't mean we can't attack the physical infrastructure of the state to weaken their power.

Just killing jihadis from the air while allowing them to continue to hold their God-given caliphate is not a winning strategy when ISIL recruits from the global Sunni Moslem world that is inspired by seeing (from afar via the Internet) the glories of the reborn caliphate that could regain the glories of the original caliphate if only young Moslem men will risk martyrdom by coming to the Islamic State to fight for Allah's will.

It's the oddest thing, our president has taken the lead in wars yet still doesn't seem to really view himself as a war president.

War is focused violence. Where is our focus? Thank goodness nobody will just accuse us of enjoying bombing brown people.

Really, take our time.

What could possibly go wrong by allowing a jihadi state to continue to exist in a volatile and vital region of the world while Iran continues to expand their influence at the expense of our Arab allies?

UPDATE: Strategypage says we have no choice but to go slow in Iraq:

American military advisors are less optimistic mainly because the Iraqi army and police still have so many incompetent (and often corrupt) officers. Fixing that situation takes time and there is no way to speed it up dramatically. Iraqi and Western politicians and media pundits have a hard time understanding that reality.

I do understand this reality. But we face light infantry terrorists who are at best motorized. Their fire support consists of suicide car bombs and terrorism.

I don't understand why we haven't been able to create or find core mobile forces to lead offensives to drive ISIL back from their gains in Iraq.

As the French demonstrated in Mali, as we demonstrated in Afghanistan in 2001, as the Saudis and Gulf Arabs recently displayed in Yemen, and as the Nigerians displayed in their country this year, if you have even a small core of good troops to lead an advance, you can drive back enemies and take ground.

Of course, that isn't the end of the war. You still have to destroy the scattered insurgents and conduct proper COIN at that point. The examples I cite weren't silver bullet operations that ended the wars.

But they did rapidly gain significant amounts of ground and free civilians from being occupied by the jihadis.

So yeah, ultimately the Iraqis have to battle corruption and restore their leadership to the level we left them in order to peel away those Sunni Arabs who back ISIL and their Saddam-era compatriots.

By all means, read the whole thing, of course.

UPDATE: And of course, regardless of whether we need the time, we are in fact giving our enemies time.