Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dots and Pictures

Before the Iraq War, I was convinced that we would invade Iraq through Anbar province from Jordan. Let's see if I can avoid making the same mistake again. Is ISIL making the same mistake?

Mind you, there were a number of dots in 2002 and early 2003 that I pointed to. And since we actually did attack Iraq from Jordan--albeit with special forces and small numbers of infantry battalions to hold air bases we captured rather than the multi-division effort I expected--there was a picture to be seen if you had enough dots to connect.

My picture was the main effort to avoid rampaging through anti-Saddam Shia areas and focus the collateral damage of our thrust in the pro-Saddam Sunni Arab areas; while avoiding the obvious option of attacking out of Kuwait, which I assumed Saddam would focus on.

Unknown to me, I found out during the war that Saddam actually did expect our main effort to come out of Jordan. I'll refrain from noting the expression that great minds think alike ...

Anyway, that's why I've noted in the past that the best way to hide your plans is not to hide them completely from a foe because they will always find out some dots. You can't hide every indication of action.

The best way to deceive is to convince your foe that the dots they see paint a picture that they expect to see. Then they do what I did--use the dots that fit perfectly into their picture and fill in the gaps with what makes sense. The only problem from the foe's point of view is that it is their picture and not our picture.

As you may remember, since the June 2014 ISIL advance in northern Iraq that added to the territory taken in Anbar starting in January 2014, I've figured that Jordan could provide a mechanized force to help the rattled Iraqi military, if supported by our air power.

I've noted several dots in support, including Jordanian troop movements, the anger of Jordan's king over ISIL's brutal killing of one of their pilots, and our military presence in Jordan as potential indicators that this option is on the table.

But while this makes sense, it made sense in 2003 and yet we did exactly what it appeared we'd do--advance north from Kuwait.

Yet now we have a dot from the other side of the battlefield:

Three suicide car bombs exploded at a border crossing between Iraq and Jordan on Saturday, killing four soldiers, a witness and an Iraqi border police source said, in an attack claimed shortly afterwards by Islamic State.

The fighting in Anbar has been at the eastern end of the province, on the approaches to Baghdad. That's where ISIL has put the most pressure on the Iraqi security forces.

Why would ISIL make an effort at the far western part of the province?

Are we engineering a western front in the fight for Anbar? In a perfect world as my picture has it, an eastern front offensive pushes the jihadis back while a western front offensive panics the eastern front and gets ISIL running for Syria--which the western front force intercepts and targets with ample air power, slaughtering them while the enemy is on the move rapidly and across open terrain.

Is ISIL wrongly expecting a western front coming out of Jordan, just as Saddam expected in 2003?

Or is ISIL just doing what ISIL does, launching terror attacks? If so, this border attack is just a spasm of violence that the local jihadis finally managed to pull off against local targets that fits in with the picture of ISIL being a band of bloody terrorists who like to kill on their mission from God.

I don't know what it is. But what I do know after nearly 13 years as an amateur intelligence analyst sifting open source resources and attempting to make sense of them on this blog is that I am more cautious about making predictions based on scattered dots with my preferences filling in the vast gaps to paint the picture.

And I will say that I still think it makes sense to have a western front in Anbar if the Jordanians are willing.

UPDATE: Strategypage, in a post on Iraq, indicates that the attacks in western Anbar is just a matter of jihadis killing people where they can as ISIL concentrates on Anbar.