Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Atomizing Deja Vu All Over Again

Lieutenant General Townsend describes what is happening to the proto-state that ISIL's caliphate represents as it is defeated in its efforts to hold and defend its claimed territory. This is nothing new to long-time readers here.

Yes, the ISIL enemy is changing:

In fact, the enemy has been, conveniently, fighting us in the -- in the way that a standing conventional army might fight us, other than using suicide bombers and vests and things like that. They have -- they've chosen to take and hold ground and defend that ground. And that is something that our partners are well designed to counter.

I think that what we'll see is as the -- ISIS is -- comes under greater and greater pressure, they will devolve into a more insurgent-like method of operation. They'll try to hide with the population. Their cells will get smaller. Instead of companies and platoons, they'll go to squads and cells, much smaller elements hiding in the population. They'll disperse. They'll be smaller. They'll be more covert.

In one -- in some ways, that's an easier security problem for the security forces to handle. In other ways, it's more difficult and there are challenges with that. So we'll have to adapt our security force partners over time to deal with less -- something less than the conventional force threat that they're facing now and something that looks more like an insurgency in the future. [emphasis added]

Don't become confused, however. It is unquestionably better to have insurgents and terrorists than a proto-state that controls territory. Sure, kill them while we have the opportunity when they try to defend. But don't be confused that such a state is preferred over defeating and scattering the survivors.

I noted this process of breaking down the enemy and pushing them down the escalation ladder over a decade ago:

Over the last two years, I've said that we need to atomize the enemy in Iraq. As long as the enemy can mass in company-sized units, they can overrun police stations. If they can mass in platoon strength, they can wipe out road blocks and patrols.

If Iraqi patrols, road blocks, and police stations can't hold alone, it is more likely that more sophisticated forces with tanks and artillery and air power will be needed to fight the enemy. Right now, that's US forces.

Make it so that the enemy can only gather squads or fire teams, and low tech Iraqi light infantry and police can fight the enemy effectively. Iraqis can provide reaction teams to reinforce threatened Iraqi units.

If the Iraqis can fight effectively, we can pull back sooner into large bases to deter Iranian attack until the Iraqi army defeats the insurgency and then builds up conventional defenses.

We did that in the Iraq War. But we didn't stay after 2011 to make sure the Iraqis could handle the lower level threat. And the enemy rapidly scaled the escalation ladder to create a caliphate in Iraq (and Syria).

We are in the process of doing this again in Iraq War 2.0. Dispersing the enemy as the general notes, is a mark of success.

Although recall that despite the problems of the Iraqi army in 2014 that enabled the ISIL advance, we started Iraq War 2.0 from a far higher level of local capacity to fight than we did in post-Saddam Iraq in 2003. We repaired enough of the Iraqi military we built in the first war rather than having to build it from scratch.

Let's remain to help the Iraqis keep their foot on the pedal to exterminate jihadis (and to expel Iranian influence). Otherwise we will have Iraq War 3.0.