Monday, March 13, 2017

The Post-Caliphate ISIL Era Looms

Iraqi forces say ISIL resistance in Mosul is weakening and the fight for Raqqa is approaching. Meanwhile Assad pretends that ISIL is his primary concern.

In Iraq, ISIL's major conquest is being lost:

Speaking to AFP on Sunday, Staff Major General Maan al-Saadi of the elite Counter-Terrorism Service said "more than a third" of west Mosul was now under the control of security forces. ...

"The battle is not easy... we are fighting an irregular enemy who hides among the citizens and uses tactics of booby-trapping, explosions and suicide bombers, and the operation is taking place with precision to preserve the lives of the citizens," Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, the spokesman for the JOC, told AFP.

Still, he said, IS resistance "has begun to weaken in a big way".

Rasool appears to be speaking of ISIL resistance in a specific area rather than all of Mosul, but it seems like the comment does reflect the bigger picture.

Meanwhile on the Syria front, American-supported forces reinforced by American troops are nearing an assault on Raqqa:

Defence officials told the Washington Post that a Marine artillery unit had been deployed with large field guns that can fire 155mm shells about 32km (20 miles).

A coalition spokesman, Col John Dorrian, told Reuters news agency they would help "expedite the defeat" of IS in Raqqa.

These American forces are part of a temporary deployment not counted in our ceiling for troops levels. So the assault must be imminent. And as the article notes, we'd like to kill off the leadership in the battle to cripple ISIL's ability to adapt to loss of the caliphate.

Which means we will likely see the commitment of that reserve force we decided to put in place in Kuwait.

Remember in the initial 2001 Afghanistan campaign, we relied too much on local Afghan allies on the ground, which seems to have allowed Osama bin Laden and other leaders to escape the Battle of Tora Bora.

Another sign of an imminent battle is that ISIL has evacuated the families of their troops:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "300 families of foreign fighters of IS have left the city of Raqa since dawn Friday to take refuge in the province of Deir Ezzor to the east and Hama to the west".

Syria's dictator Assad is a latecomer to the battle against ISIL, having let others fight them while he slaughtered non-jihadi rebels in the west. Now he is trying to get in on the act to exploit the American-led effort:

Assad said that "in theory" he still saw scope for cooperation with Trump, though practically nothing had happened in this regard. He dismissed the U.S.-backed military campaign against Islamic State in Syria as "only a few raids", and said a more comprehensive approach was needed. ...

Assad noted that the Russian-backed Syrian army was now "very close" to Raqqa city after advancing to the western banks of the Euphrates River this week - a rapid gain that has brought it to the frontier of areas held by the U.S.-backed forces.

He said Raqqa was "a priority for us", but indicated that there could also be a parallel army attack towards Deir al-Zor in the east, near the Iraqi border. Deir al-Zor province is almost completely controlled by Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

It is funny that ISIL is being defeated because of America with no help from Assad or his friends, yet he claims America has carried out "only a few raids." This fights nicely with recent Russian claims to have killed about 1,600 ISIL forces in a couple of air raids recently. So on paper Russia is prominent in that fight.

Note that at Deir al-Zor (Deir Ezzor) city Assad forces are under siege. I haven't heard of any recent ISIL efforts there, which at one point seemed like a target to create an alternate capital once Raqqa falls.

I suspect that Assad's forces poised west of Raqqa (which is likely mostly non-Syrian), notwithstanding his sudden "priority" of fighting ISIL, will hang back to let the American-supported forces bleed to take Raqqa--which has been the strategy all along--and then wait for the temporary flux of American troops to leave before sending in his forces to take Raqqa from the Syrian militias we back and then move on to Deir al-Zor province.

Assad is our enemy. Do we take that into account as the post-caliphate era we've striven to achieve looms?

UPDATE: Yes, the Iraq front morale problem appears to be Mosul-wide.

ISIL resistance in Mosul is faltering:

Islamic State fighters are in disarray and struggling to fend off a rapid offensive by Iraqi forces to recapture Mosul and expel the militants from their last major stronghold in the country, a top U.S. military official said.

"They’re lacking purpose motivation and direction,” Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin said in a phone interview from Baghdad. “I’ve never seen them so disorganized.”

There have been reports of ISIL leadership leaving Mosul. Yes, some left behind will fight to the death. But without leadership to direct the resistance, that willingness to die rather than trying to live to fight another day is a favor to the Iraqis who are more than willing to kill the jihadis.