Monday, October 17, 2016

In Contact With the Enemy

Yes indeed, the big offensive to take Mosul has begun. As long as it remains a fight between ISIL and Iraqi forces backed by the coalition America organized to help them, the offensive will be a victory for Iraq. The main variables will be the speed and casualties.

Announced yesterday, the offensive is on:

Some 30,000 federal forces are leading the offensive, backed by a 60-nation US-led coalition, in what is expected to be a long and difficult assault on IS's last major Iraqi stronghold. ...

The Pentagon described the long-awaited operation as a "decisive moment" in the fight against IS but the US-led coalition's top commander warned it could last weeks or more.

The beginning of the assault also saw aid groups voice fears for the hundreds of thousands of civilians remaining in the city, with IS expected to use them as human shields.

The ISIL defenders number 3,000 to 4,500. Although this article says it is 4,000 to 8,000.

I imagine the advance will be slow, with units avoiding getting ahead of units on their flanks, and using precision firepower to kill and rattle the ISIL defenders ahead of them while avoiding casualties. It took a long time to train these troops and I doubt there is a pipelines of replacements being trained.

Mine and obstacle clearing will keep engineers busy and keep the advance slow. I doubt we will see anything so dramatic as a major helicopter-borne assault unless an ISIL collapse is apparent.

And even at the high end estimate, the ISIL defenders are outnumbered just by the spearhead Iraqi Counter-terrorism Service (or Force, depending on where and when I've read stories about them)

But I'm not sure how hard the ISIL defenders will fight. Yes, this is their de facto capital in Iraq and without it, the caliphate is only located in Syria for all practical purposes. So one would expect ISIL to fight hard--to the death, even, as their jihadi reputation holds them to be eager to do.

But for the last year, jihadis have not fought hard at all in Iraq to hold their ground. Contrast this record with the jihadis in Syria and Libya where they fight hammer and tong in the face of superior firepower.

With stories of executions of ISIL members for retreating, plots among even ISIL people, actions to keep ISIL people from fleeing Mosul, plans to revert to insurgency and terror, and the effects of two years of bombing, the chances of ISIL standing their ground seems low to me.

It likely will take weeks to push into Mosul just from the logistics of moving forward and clearing potentially mined ground carefully--and screening refugees for ISIL members trying to escape in a flow of refugees fleeing the city--which has been held by ISIL for more than two years.

What worries me is that the battle for Mosul has been obvious for a long time. That was unavoidable considering that it was the obvious target. But perhaps our enemies have prepared rather than waiting patiently for the killing blow to fall on them.

Could ISIL attack and blow that shaky dam that looms over Baghdad? Iraq would need every soldier they could get to cope with rescue and recovery in those circumstances.

Might Iran unleash their hand puppet Sadr to stage a coup in Baghdad while the best Iraqi troops are leaning forward into their northern offensive and while pro-Iranian Shia militias are lurking to the rear of the offensive, present but not allowed to get too close to the battle so they won't abuse and kill non-Shia civilians?

Would the Iraqi units then collapse between the ISIL forces in front of them and the new threat behind them that cuts them off, shaking the morale of the Iraqi government loyalists as Sadrists storm government buildings in Baghdad?

Or maybe this plan survives contact with the enemy. You never know. Let's hope.

UPDATE: I hear that the offensive is leaving an escape route to the west open so ISIL defenders could retreat toward Syria.

In past attacks on ISIL, the Iraqis have done this too, not believing that letting an enemy live to fight another day is a bad idea if it reduces casualties this day.

Not being trapped in Mosul, the ISIL defenders won't be compelled to fight to the death. I suspect with a retreat option open the vast majority will choose to run.

And on the bright side, I imagine the ISIL forces trying to flee to Syria will run an aerial gauntlet that will smash them up quite a bit.

UPDATE: This article says that Iraqi forces will attempt to cut off routes from Mosul to Syria, rather than leaving a path open as I heard on television.

UPDATE: Although some Iraqi forces have halted, our people deny that there is a pause in the offensive:

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition had earlier said the operation was proceeding as planned and that Iraqi forces were making "excellent progress."

"There's no pause in efforts to liberate Mosul. Troops are on the move on various axes of advance toward the city," said Col. John Dorrian. "Some commanders have reached their objectives ahead of schedule after encountering light-to-moderate resistance."

It sounds like that this is a tidy offensive, with phase lines that Iraqi forces are to reach to keep the advance from opening gaps that the enemy could exploit to work behind or into the flanks of advancing Iraqi units; and to prevent Iraqi units from approaching friendly forces from unexpected directions and perhaps triggering "friendly fire" engagements between Iraq units (and God forbid, between Iraqi and Kurdish units).

For an army that is uncertain of its abilities, this is better than a damn the flanks drive on Mosul.