Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Searching for a Good Core Mobile Force

Back when the crisis in Iraq got bad enough to lead President Obama to re-intervene in Iraq, I wrote that Iraq needed core mobile forces to lead offensives against ISIL. Iraq still only has the one such force that I identified back then.

Note that in the Iraqi government Ramadi offensive, Iraq's Counter-Terrorism force spearheaded the operation:

Clearing operations are led by Iraq's elite counter-terrorism service (CTS), along with army, police and local tribal forces, as well as aerial backing from the US-led anti-IS coalition.

Back in June 2014, after Mosul fell, I wrote that Iraq needed core mobile forces to spearhead a counter-offensive:

Our few special forces and intelligence agents backed by air power smashed the Taliban army in 2001. The French used a tiny military force to blitz their way through the jihadis controlling northern Mali last year.

The Iraqis probably don't have that military capability, unless their counter-terrorism forces are capable of fighting as formed units. That's probably a waste of their capabilities even if they could do it. We don't treat 30 SEALs as a really good platoon of infantry, now do we?

We could organize the general purpose Iraqi units for a plodding assault north. But it will be ugly even if successful.

We need a core of a mobile offensive force that can shatter the jihadis by moving north and calling down precision fire to smash up the jihadis as they try to defend their newly won caliphate.

Not that I was comparing the counter-terrorism force to SEALS (or our Delta Force, for that matter) in level of skill--just as a general comparison.

At the time, I hoped that Jordan and the Kurds could provide the spearheads. My thinking at the time was that the entire Iraqi ground force didn't have to be high quality and mobile. Germany's blitzkrieg relied on a small portion of the army trained and equipped as mobile forces, recall.

Heck, Iraq's expansion of the small Republican Guard force to a corps-level mobile force late in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) was done more effectively.

Other than the Iran-backed Shia militias who respond to ISIL "scream and leap" tactics (a Kzin reference) with their own version of that, the only core fore Iraq has appears to be the Counter-Terrorism Service.

None of the coalition training efforts apparently has given Iraq units capable of leading offensives against the vastly outnumbered ISIL enemy.

So the war against ISIL is a gnawing away of territory in Iraq. And note that the Kurds in Iraq--the most capable force there--are almost completely just holding their territory rather than fighting and dying for the Iraqi government's goal of liberating Mosul:

In Iraq, ISIL faces an army backed by our air power. An Iraqi army that isn't that good, I admit, but an army nonetheless.

And the air power is very good.

As an aside, back in 1996 when I presented a paper at the Army convention in Washington, DC, on the Iran-Iraq War's opening offensive, a questioner from the Air Force asked if I thought the Iraqi offensive into Khuzestan would have done better with a more capable air force to support it. I said I did not think that would have mattered. I guess the last year shows that I was correct since a poor Iraqi army supported by the American air force has not clawed back much territory from a much worse enemy than Iraq faced in 1980.

But I digress.

Yet still we and our allies haven't managed to train core Iraqi forces capable of conducting mobile warfare and using our air power to support them, which would lead the clearing (and killing) part of the offensive to allow less capable Iraqi army and police forces to garrison and hold what is taken.

Mind you, before we left Iraq at the end of 2011, it was clear that we needed to stay in Iraq to create a mobile army that we need today to fight for territory rather than a counter-insurgency force.

Perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised when the long-promised Mosul offensive kicks off sometime (early?) this year.

Although ISIL control of Fallujah will allow ISIL to attack Baghdad even as the best Iraqi troops head north:

Iraqi forces may face a big battle near Baghdad before they can try to retake the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul: Falluja, a long-time bastion of Sunni Muslim jihadists at the capital's western gates.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's government and the U.S.-led coalition backing it have been cagey so far in plans for Falluja, which lies between Baghdad and Ramadi, the capital of western Anbar province that the Iraqi military recaptured this week from the militants.

I have hope that the ISIL gunmen aren't as resolute and willing to die now, which would help the Iraqi government be relatively better than ISIL.

Strategypage seems of two minds on this question:

Mosul is the largest city ISIL controls and where they declared their “caliphate.” The loss of Mosul will be a major one for ISIL and will lead to more difficulty recruiting and raising money. Desertion will increase (as it does every time ISIL suffers a major defeat) and definitely put ISIL on the defensive and forced to consider the possibility of destruction, like all previous caliphates. For this reason everyone expects ISIL to put up a strong defense in Mosul, regularly fighting to the death and causing the attackers maximum casualties.

So a fight to the death?

Maybe not:

Since mid-December ISIL has made several large scale attacks on Kurdish and Iraqi army positions outside Mosul and Kirkuk. Some of these attacks involved several hundred gunmen and suicide bombers. None have succeeded and that is particularly bad news for ISIL commanders. ...

Morale and reputation are important for ISIL because many, if not most, of their personnel consider ISIL an employer, not a cause to die for. ISIL is believed to have about 15,000 personnel in Iraq and Syria. Most are armed, although many are not trained fighters and tend to work in support jobs.

I know a lot of people here--mostly on the left--like to argue that it is futile to fight jihadis because it just makes more of them. As if all of the jihadi ranks are filled with the most angry and death-worshiping thugs.

This is incorrect. Fighting ineffectively creates more jihadis. But defeating jihadis really does discourage the less committed and lead them to reconsider their career path. If they think they will lose--or die--they will abandon the jihad.

As for the really committed core of the jihad? Well, they need to be killed. So kill them.