Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Good Enough for Anti-ISIL Work?

Iraq War 2.0 (Hope and Change Edition) continues. Iraq is still weak. But is it strong enough to finally have a go at breaking ISIL?

Iraq's army still isn't rebuilt, apparently. And the militias beholden to Iran at least in part are too strong:

Abadi's resources remain limited. Iraq's regular military has not recovered from last year's defeat by Islamic State. Most young Shi'ite Iraqi men now prefer to join the paramilitary groups, which are seen as braver and less corrupt. ...

"If they are not paid by the prime minister," this official said, "they can do what they want."

Iran pays some of those 100,000 militias. How many, I don't know, but we say the amount is significant. But all are a real problem since they don't follow orders unless they want to.

The militias were probably necessary in the dark days of summer and fall 2014. But Iraq should have used the militia to buy time to rebuild the army and then disband the militias or bring them under tight government control.

But that is going slowly:

[United States Army Lieutenant General Mick Bednarek] estimates the army has only five functioning divisions – roughly 50,000 men, whose fighting readiness ranges between 60 and 65 percent.

Some of the best military and police – more than 80,000 men – are now based in Baghdad, Bednarek said, because Abadi wants to make sure the capital does not fall to Islamic State.

There are accusations that one army division is heavily influenced if not controlled by the militias; and the Interior Ministry (only here is that a parks thing rather than a security institution) is allegedly penetrated by militias.

I'm still wondering why it is taking so long--despite the appearance of Iraq finally being ready to strike a more decisive blow.

That's the bad news. The good news is that saying that Iraq has only 5 functioning divisions doesn't mean the army doesn't have more manpower. There are others that can sit and provide security if they aren't challenged too much in quieter areas. And this force reflects the troops we initially saw as decent and which we and our allies have worked with to train and equip. So they are okay.

And ISIL is smaller. What? 30,000 across Iraq and Syria? Iraq has enough.

So let's look at the good from Strategypage's lengthy situation report:

After nearly a year of stalemate near the oil refinery at Baiji (on the Tigris River between Baghdad and Mosul 200 kilometers north of Baghdad) has been broken as government forces made major progress in October.

The Iraqis themselves have provided a lot of air support for the fight. And ISIL had stopped sending many troops to fight there, meaning their forces dwindled over time.

With Baiji in Iraqi hands, an offensive north against Mosul is in theory possible.

Meanwhile security forces have been making progress in retaking Ramadi. In the last month more American and Iraqi troops have been sent to Anbar. The Americans are there to train and advise Iraqi soldiers, police and pro-government tribal militias. Most of the several thousand U.S. troops were at al Asad airbase (in eastern Anbar) but more are being sent west, closer to ISIL occupied Ramadi and the main ISIL forces. Iraqis handle security for these bases but American troops take part in the fighting when needed. More American troops are being seen out in the countryside with Iraqi troops. There are about 5,000 ISIL gunmen in Anbar and that number appears to be declining.

Strategypage also baits me, given my frequent statements that I assume a Jordanian offensive from the west will be part of an offensive into Anbar to break ISIL there:

Jordan has doubled its troop strength on its Iraqi border, which is near Ramadi and what Jordan expects will soon be a major battle with ISIL.

So Iraqi forces are grinding forward toward Ramadi and Mosul. Jordan to the rear of Ramadi has massed troops. And in the north we helped the Kurds--who we'd like to threaten ISIL in Mosul from the northeast--rescue their people from ISIL in Iraq.

And we promise a more energetic campaign:

The U.S. military will intensify air strikes and may carry out more direct ground attacks as it steps up efforts against Islamic State militants following a failed bid to train Syrian rebels, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told lawmakers on Tuesday.

More of our careful bombing and more special forces raids are not a plan to defeat ISIL.

Unless we plan to take ground from ISIL in Iraq and really push them back, intensifying this activity is just motion for the sake of looking like we are doing more.

I retain hope. The military knows better. It depends on whether they are allowed to plan and fight a military campaign or must pretend to wage war.

UPDATE: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wants to exploit the situation based on the gnawing success around Baiji and Ramadi:

Dunford told the committee that the coalition must reduce ISIL’s territorial control, destroy its warfighting capability, “and undermine its brand and aura of invincibility.” ISIL’s main attraction is its claim to be the new caliphate.

The two main efforts against the terror group are the air campaign and the train, advise and assist campaign. Airstrikes are intended to kill key leadership and fighters, interdict ISIL’s lines of communication and disrupt their sources of revenue -- primarily oil, the chairman said.

“The second critical element in the military campaign is to develop and support effective partners on the ground, to seize and secure ISIL-held terrain,” he said.

Why yes. Kill them. Push them back. And defeat them. And find a ground partner to do all this, since air strikes and training Iraqis apparently isn't enough.

And while I think Syria must take a back seat, I don't think that the war there has shifted to Assad's side, despite the temporary boost provided by Russia's intervention alongside Iran.

Strategypage has more on this:

The Russian supported government forces went on the offensive in October and for a week or so seemed to make some progress. The Russian air strikes, guided by Syrian ground controllers, were accurate and allowed the Syrian/Lebanese/Iranian forces to advance. But by mid-October the advance had stalled.

And keep in mind that a successful intervention at best keeps Assad in control of an arc of territory in western Syria running from the Turkish border to the Israeli and Jordanian borders--territory I said in early 2012 that Assad had to retreat to in order to survive.

I don't think Assad has the ground power after grueling attrition to hold that maximum realm. I have doubts about whether Assad can hold Damascus.

And what about his supporters in the remaining enclaves away from the core? I think operations around Aleppo are about rescuing them and not pushing the perimeter of the core area north. Even if successful, what about other outposts further east? Are they--and their defenders--to be written off?