Wednesday, January 11, 2017

So Who is Good Enough to Fight for Mosul?

Strategypage writes that the fighting for Mosul is slow-going because of the effort to reduce friendly force casualties and avoid civilian casualties. So far, that's fine. But how is it possible to say that there are so few forces capable of fighting for Mosul?

Iraqi forces are closing on the Tigris River in the offensive from the east.

And this article indicates that the blown bridges are no obstacle to crossing the Tigris River on foot, at least for one bridge blown by ISIL and pictured in the article:

The rubble of a bridge [in the Al-Muthanna neighborhood] blown up by Islamic State in Mosul to block advancing Iraqi forces has become a lifeline for civilians as more and more of the northern city breaks loose from the grip of the ultra-hardline militants.

I don't get this discussion by Strategypage at all:

When the operation began in October there were about 100,000 troops involved but most of them are attacking lightly held areas on the outskirts or providing security in cleared areas and manning the blockade around the city. The hardest fighting is handled by less than ten percent of the troops and overall only about a quarter of the assault force can be relied on in combat. ...

The Mosul assault force consists of 30,000 Iraqi Army troops, including several thousand special operations specialists. There are several thousand police counter-terrorism and special operations commandos. The Kurds have 15,000 troops, a disproportionate number considering that Kurds comprise only about 20 percent of the Iraqi population.

Draftees aren't good enough, Strategypage writes. But I wasn't aware that Iraq conscripted. I thought one of the problems was that Shia militias were attracting volunteers who would otherwise join the army.

It has been two and a half years since ISIL captured Mosul.

In that same time, we went from being attacked at Pearl Harbor to landing at Normandy, after building many Army divisions from conscripts to hit the beaches.

What have we been doing if there are so few trained Iraqi troops capable of fighting for Mosul?

Does the Strategypage post mean that Kurds are half of the effective assault force? It can't be. One, "Iraqi forces" generally don't include the Kurds. And two, I read that the Kurds said that they would not enter Mosul to fight and die there. They agreed to pass through Iraqi troops after advancing the line toward Mosul.

But fine, if there really are so few Iraqi army and paramilitary troops trusted to fight for Mosul, that certainly explains the slow pace of the fighting.

But if so, why are so few Iraqis capable of fighting for Mosul? Wouldn't that be the real scandal given our decision more than two years ago to send in coalition advisors to train Iraqis to fight for the liberation of Mosul and other parts of Iraq?

Are so many of the trained Iraqi troops just guarding Baghdad to avoid some type of coup attempt by pro-Iranian militias?

I'm mystified. It makes no sense to me that after so much time there are so few Iraqi troops qualified to fight in Mosul against a heavily outnumbered and poorly trained and supported--if mostly fanatical--enemy light infantry force.

UPDATE: This had best not be true:

"The forces who have the skills to fight guerrilla warfare is only the CTS," [Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati, who heads Iraqi special forces,] said using an alternative acronym for Iraq's special forces who are also called the counter-terrorism forces. "They have flexibility and can act quickly," he said.

Certainly army units and police units have been spearheading thrusts into eastern Mosul, too. So it can't literally be true although they are surely the best. I think we expanded them from 4,000 to 12,000 in the last 2-1/2 years.

Note that the police units assaulting ISIL to ease the burden on the CTS are good light infantry para-military types, and not units better suited to holding ground as I thought when I first posted on their transfer to the eastern Mosul front. My mistake.

UPDATE: Colonel Brett Sylvia notes the progress the Iraqi ground forces have made over the last nine months when the CTS really seemed to be the only spearhead force in this press briefing:

But what we've witnessed now over time since that day way back in May, is that they have increased their ability to conduct combined arms maneuver. It has been a growing capability. I'm sure you all have heard the stories about Ramadi where it was only the counterterrorism services that were leading the fight and it was the Iraqi army that had to move in behind them. They were the only offensive maneuver.

But today, in Mosul, what you'll see is you'll see the Counterterrorism Service advancing on one axis, you'll see the federal police advancing on another axis and you'll see the Iraqi army advancing on a -- on a third axis, each one of them now able to operate inside of a dense urban environment and be able to continue to make gains every single day, make progress every single day against ISIL.

And so it’s not like it was back nine months ago where they struggled to get true combined arms maneuver in order to be able to defeat the enemy. And today, they're doing that. And every day, they're getting better at that as they continue to gain more experience at this, they gain more confidence. Their leaders gain greater competence.

I guess we shall see if any of the forces south and west of Mosul have made such progress.

UPDATE: More of the east bank of Mosul is under control of Iraqi forces:

Iraqi special forces drove back Islamic State militants in the strategic Mosul University campus on Saturday while elite police units took over large areas along the Tigris river, military officials said.

I will say in light of the question of this post that if I was unsure of the quality of my troops I would want to have a river barrier at my front before perhaps having to move assault troops in position to attack western Mosul.

So does the simple fact that no attack from the southwest has taken place bolstered the notion that we truly have trained few decent Iraqi troops?

Or will the Iraqis really cross the river to keep pressing the attack into western Mosul rather than having a river line that allows the Iraqis to thin their front line there to hold their gains while the Iraqis shift forces to a different front?