Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Shaping the Northern Battlefield

American-supported Syrian rebels moved on a Syrian city on the Iraq border whose capture would impede the ability of ISIL to move forces between Iraq and Syria.

This is interesting if the offensive on Mosul is in the air:

Syrian rebels [the New Syrian Army] aided by U.S.-led airstrikes launched an offensive against an Islamic State stronghold [at Boukamal] near the Iraqi border on Tuesday, hoping to sever one of the extremists’ main transit links between the two countries, a rebel spokesman said.

Interesting since I've long held that our operations in Syria should serve to isolate Iraq from reinforcements from Syria when we hit ISIL hard in the north.

Which also makes this more interesting:

Two weeks ago, Washington accused Russian aircraft of bombing the New Syrian Army near the Tanf border crossing with Iraq.

The attack apparently came from this region. Our friends, the Russians. We bomb ISIL which helps Russia prop up Assad; and Russia attacks rebels who are anti-ISIL but also anti-Assad.

Somebody doesn't play well with others.

And this offensive at Boukamal also could explain this older news:

A car bomb exploded on the Syrian-Jordanian border early on Tuesday, the Jordanian military said, killing and wounding several Jordanian border guards in an attack that raised new questions about the pro-Western kingdom's stability.

I don't think it raises questions about Jordan's stability. I think it indicates that ISIL knows that the Jordanians and Americans are working with Syrian rebels on the other side of the border. Perhaps the very ones hitting Boukamal.

Is the Mosul offensive much closer than the end of this year as we have telegraphed?

And could the offensive be faster than all the doom suggests about the fanatical ISIL fighting to the death to cling to Mosul?

Fallujah's ISIL defenders were broken rather easily. Which is something I said could easily happen given the past 6 months of poor performance by ISIL fighting-to-the-death-wise.

Still, the New Syrian Army offensive is not a slam-dunk, it seems, since ISIL successfully counter-attacked:

One rebel source said Islamic State fighters had encircled the rebels in a surprise ambush. They had suffered heavy casualties and weapons had been seized by the jihadists, the source said.

Wonderful. Nice situational awareness and local security, lads.

Still, there is one thing makes me feel better about the coming offensive on Mosul. I've been worried that the Counter-Terrorism Force of Iraq has been stressed by leading many offensives in Anbar and elsewhere. Would they have anything left for the big push north?

One, I suspect we have lots of trained Iraqi brigades waiting to go north. And two, I've read the CTF is now 10,000 strong. I believe in June 2014 it was only 4,000 strong. So it is in better condition to be used to spearhead multiple offensives without burning out the whole force.

UPDATE: Iraqi forces are clawing back ground on the road to Mosul, although this is not considered the actual big push:

Iraq's military said it advanced through northern villages held by Islamic State on Wednesday, on its way to an airfield which could serve as the staging ground for a future offensive on Mosul, the biggest city held by the militants.

Army and counter-terrorism forces recaptured Telol al-Baj, about 260 km (160 miles) north of Baghdad on the main north-south road on Tuesday, a senior commander participating in the offensive told Reuters.

U.S.-led coalition air strikes have helped repel suicide car bomb attacks, the commander said. Both sides have suffered casualties, but most militants have fled into the desert, he added.

This operation has been going on for two weeks.