Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The End of the Beginning.

Iraqi forces are making good progress in western Mosul. As I've mentioned, I don't see the harder ISIL resistance that was supposed to greet the Iraqi forces in this phase of the battle. On the contrary, ISIL seems to be trying to escape with a rearguard buying time.

Iraqi progress is coming quickly:

Iraqi forces said Tuesday they had seized the main government offices in Mosul and its famed museum as they made steady progress in their battle to retake the city's west from jihadists.

The advances, which also included the recapture of three neighbourhoods, were announced on the third day of a renewed offensive against the Islamic State group in west Mosul -- the largest remaining urban stronghold in the "caliphate" IS declared in 2014.

I've been perplexed that the pre-battle buzz was that the battle for the western part of Mosul would be harder. It seemed more likely that ISIL shot its bolt in the fight for the east side of the city.

And the details of the battle didn't seem to indicate hard resistance at a main line of resistance. ISIL is running out of territory to have a main line of resistance.

Unless ISIL has been sucking the Iraqis into a kill sack in the interior of the city where massive house bombs will be used to slaughter troops and civilians alike in a final suicidal and homicidal gesture, Mosul is being liberated.

Terrorists can of course remain. Mosul has been a problem city for a long time, in that regard. But ISIL is being defeated.

And Strategypage confirms my impression of the battle despite the press reports that claim resistance will be harder even as the stories themselves indicate weaker resistance.

They say:

Intel analysts, taking all available data (refugee reports, prisoner interrogations, Internet chatter, aerial surveillance and captured documents) are pretty certain that ISIL has shifted most of its personnel into or towards Syria and the ISIL capital Raqqa. From there ISIL is trying to get a lot of their veteran operatives out of Syria. ISIL leaders are telling their followers to prepare for setbacks and a shift to clandestine operations (and lots of terror attacks) rather than administering territory. ...

For the troops and militia seeking to liberate Mosul this could be very good news because it means the current rapid advances (especially in the southern portion of west Mosul) are not part of a deception (to lead complacent attackers into a trap) but confirmation that ISIL is not going to use a lot of their dwindling fighters to make a bloody last stand in Mosul.

Iraqi commanders have apparently accepted this new assessment and are making the most of it. Foreign advisors (especially the Americans who call in air and artillery strikes) have been allowed, since the end of 2016, to operate as close to the fighting as they thought practical. As a result the guys calling in the smart bombs and artillery are delivering this firepower as quickly as they would for American troops and the Iraqi special operations personnel (many of them trained by Americans) are taking advantage of that to use all that firepower like the Americans do.

The Iraqis will still face ISIL terrorists even though the caliphate in Iraq is being dismantled.

Do read it all. There is more on Anbar where Iraqi forces are gaining the upper hand over dwindling ISIL numbers; and on Iran, who we will need to resist--in part by promoting rule of law--as Iran tries to dominate the Iraqi government. Iran had a free lane after we left Iraq in 2011 and with the Obama administration that was determined to be Iran's friend regardless of what Iran did to harm us and our friends.

We shall see how that goes. Mosul isn't the end of the road.

UPDATE: So long, and thanks for all the Daesh:

U.S. and Iraqi officials believe the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has left operational commanders behind with diehard followers to fight the battle of Mosul, and is now hiding out in the desert, focusing mainly on his own survival.

That has to suck to know you weren't one of the few deemed to be worthy of evacuation as the smart bombs get closer.

UPDATE: Perhaps it is official:

In the [Iraqi] command centre responsible for the eastern half of the city, which was liberated in December, Brigadier Qais Yaaqoub was jubilant. “They are in full collapse now,” he said. “When an army breaks it happens very quickly. Within a week or two, this will all be over.” He may be speaking prematurely, but probably not by much. The liberation of west Mosul, started only last month, has proceeded much faster than expected.

American officers think there are fewer than 500 ISIL defenders left. They may yet fight to the death in parts of the old city, but they are defeated.

Unless the Iranians launch a coup in Baghdad, the Iraqi forces aren't going to be distracted enough to fail to finish off the ISIL defenders.

UPDATE: Without a major target to fight for in Iraq like Mosul, more American power will be available for the Syria front.

Marines with 155mm artillery assets are now in Syria to support the offensive to take Raqqa:

A U.S. Marines artillery unit has deployed to Syria in recent days to help local forces speed up efforts to defeat Islamic State at Raqqa and the campaign to isolate the city is going "very, very well", the U.S.-led coalition said on Thursday. ...

The additional deployment comprises a total of 400 U.S. forces - both Marines and Army Rangers. It adds to around 500 U.S. military personnel already in Syria, Dorrian said.

Four hundred men would probably be a battalion, possibly stripped down for its temporary nature and possibly augmented with a rifle company for local security. But I'm guessing on that.

In addition, we may augment the theater reserve force with a reserve force that local commanders can commit quickly:

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration is weighing a deployment of up to 1,000 American soldiers to Kuwait to serve as a reserve force in the fight against Islamic State as U.S.-backed fighters accelerate the offensive in Syria and Iraq, U.S. officials told Reuters.

Proponents of the option, which has not been previously reported, said it would provide U.S. commanders on the ground greater flexibility to quickly respond to unforeseen opportunities and challenges on the battlefield.

So we'd have a reinforced battalion task force as an immediate reserve, if implemented.

But as we accelerate the fight against ISIL in Syria, what do we do about Assad? Forces backing him, including Russians, are heading east toward Raqqa to finally join that fight.

Will the militias we support in the fight against ISIL be fine with submitting to Assad after defeating ISIL? Will we walk away from them when ISIL is defeated?

Our objective for the end game in Syria has always perplexed me. If Assad isn't the final enemy, what is the point of our effort, really?

If Assad isn't the ultimate objective, we should have left ISIL in Syria alone--except for interdicting traffic to Iraq and other missions to support the Iraq front--and let Assad enjoy the fight against ISIL.

UPDATE: The Marine unit temporarily deployed to Syria is part of the 11th MEU currently deployed in CENTCOM.

UPDATE: Strategypage writes that the Marine unit is an artillery battery of artillery; also we have a Ranger company up near the Turkish border, with supporting HIMARS, to support the offensive on Raqqa and to keep the Turks from hammering the Kurds. Much more, too, including the part about Trump wanting to defeat Assad as well as ISIL.

UPDATE: Yes, Syria is complicated with lots of bad guys. But ISIL and Assad are two bad guys with American blood on their hands and the potential to kill more of us, so defeating them is as good a place to start as any.

UPDATE: I guess I'm unclear if the 400 new American troop increment is just the Marines or includes the Rangers.

UPDATE: The balance of a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division already supporting Iraqi forces is going to Kuwait as a reserve force:

The U.S. military is sending an additional 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait from which they could be called upon to back up coalition forces battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

We need to beat ISIL. And it is taking an amazing amount of time to break apart their caliphate. More troops to support our allies will help.

But this will result in more American casualties in the short run. While it is true that a war won sooner means troops won't be dying in a longer war, the unseen non-casualties never make up for the seen casualties.