After months of unexpectedly swift advances, the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State is running into hurdles on and off the battlefield that call into question whether the pace of recent gains can be sustained.
Chaos in Baghdad, the fraying of the cease-fire in Syria and political turmoil in Turkey are among some of the potential obstacles that have emerged in recent weeks to complicate the prospects for progress. Others include small setbacks for U.S.-allied forces on front lines in northern Iraq and Syria, which have come as a reminder that a strategy heavily reliant on local armed groups of varying proficiency who are often at odds with one another won’t always work.
Well, relatively swift advances, anyway.
What is really frustrating is that we are adding more forces on the ground to exploit our fire support a year and a half after we started training Iraqis so we did not have to add more forces on the ground to exploit our fire support.
Perhaps if we'd added the forces on the ground we'd be further along. Although I admit we did not get the core mobile forces to lead such an advance. So perhaps nothing could have been done better. Hard for me to say.
But I can say that giving an enemy time rarely works out. They may strike Paris. Hit Baghdad repeatedly. Use poison gas. Or exploit a weakness in Iraqi defenses to restore jihadi morale.
Or they might cause chaos in Baghdad. Because our "enemy" is a broad category that includes Sadr and his pro-Iran hand puppets as well as general corruption that undermines the rule of law that must be encouraged inside Iraq.
The Turks might cut a deal with Russia and pull out of the war in frustration at the cost of supporting the slow war to nowhere.
Who knows? Our enemies might collapse a dam to completely unhinge the Iraqi government's war effort, if not their legitimacy.
And our enemy could be ISIL or plain old corruption in that case.
What is really frustrating is that I suspect that if we can get our jihadi enemies running they will keep going. So I'm not sure how unexpected the advances over the last half year should have been.
Unless the ISIL fighters recover their morale, I do believe that ISIL is losing. I've said that I think their capture of Ramadi in summer 2014 was their high water mark. Events could result in a restoration of morale and momentum for ISIL. Just the passage of time can help with that if we don't exploit ISIL's shaky morale enough to break them while we can.
Enemies don't just sit and patiently wait for us to hammer out the last details of the perfect killing blow with just one more PowerPoint presentation.
I was pleasantly surprised when President Obama re-intervened in Iraq War 2.0, which has made our painfully slow campaign especially frustrating.
Of course, if the administration doesn't care about winning as much as they care about delaying defeat beyond a decent interval after leaving office to avoid being blamed for losing, our current policies make more sense.
We could lose this war if we don't develop a sense of urgency for winning it.
UPDATE: The attack is still slow-going. The fact that after all this time we still don't have a core mobile force beyond the CTF is inexcusable:
[Iraqi Nineveh Operations Commander Major General Najm al-Jabouri's] forces had no tanks and were fighting without the elite counter-terrorism forces that have spearheaded most of Iraq's successful offensives elsewhere, Jabouri said. Islamic State's use of civilians as human shields has also hampered Iraqi forces.
I mentioned them as a potential force back in 2014, but figured they had better missions than acting as a formed combat unit. And still they are all we can rely on to spearhead attacks?
Good Lord ...