Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Big Push

A few days ago, I discussed the pending Iraqi offensive north to Mosul. Here we go:

The Iraqi military backed by U.S.-led coalition aircraft on Thursday launched a long-awaited operation to recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants, a military spokesman said.

In the push, Iraqi forces retook several villages on the outskirts of the town of Makhmour, east of Mosul, early in the morning on Thursday and hoisted the Iraqi flag there, according to the spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool.

That walking piece of breathing garbage, Moqtada al Sadr, is complicating efforts in Anbar, however:

One leg of the Iraqi military's efforts to clear some of that territory in Anbar has been put on hold. A political crisis in Baghdad has prompted al-Abadi to pull some of Iraq's elite counterterrorism forces back from the front in the Euphrates River valley to secure the capital.

The prime minister recalled the forces after influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr mobilized thousands and staged a sit-in outside Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone last week in a show of force meant to put pressure on Iraq's political leadership.

It's a shame that the government needs to pull these troops in to make sure loyal forces are available in case Sadr tries (again) to launch an insurrection.

Let's hope the Mosul Storm (my name, not anything official) goes more rapidly than our more cautious estimates have predicted.

And as long as I'm hoping, it would be nice to see the Jordanians offensive into western Anbar to hit ISIL from the rear.

UPDATE: Our military hopes to add forces to support the Iraqi offensive and seems hopeful of progress in the coming months:

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters that recommendations on ways to increase U.S. support for Iraq's ground fight against IS will be discussed with President Barack Obama soon.

"The secretary and I both believe that there will be an increase in U.S. forces in Iraq in coming weeks, but that decision hasn't been made," Dunford said. He did not say how big that increase might be.

He and Carter said accelerating the campaign against the Islamic State will include more assistance like the artillery fire and targeting help that U.S. Marines provided earlier this week to Iraqi forces advancing on Mosul. But they said American forces remain well behind the front lines.

"I think there's a lot of reasons for us to be optimistic about the next several months," Dunford said. "But by no means would I say that we're about to break the back of ISIL or that the fight is over."

I think more troops is justified and I think Dunford is right that we should see progress against ISIL in Iraq if this offensive is truly a serious effort.

Indeed, I would not be surprised if the advance is more rapid than people seem to expect.

But with ISIL still dug in inside Syria and Libya, with branches elsewhere, even crippling ISIL in Iraq will not break their back overall or end the fight against ISIL.

But it is a good start. As I've long argued, our fight against ISIL should be an Iraq-first fight with strikes in Syria only for the purpose of supporting the Iraq campaign.

Sadly, I don't think we're on board the second "win" in that formula, seeming to be siding with Assad scant years after saying he had to go (President Obama) and comparing his use of poison gas to the Nazis (Kerry)