Archive for category Iraq

Jihadists Still Have The Initiative in Syria and Iraq

Ahrar al Sham T-72 tank
Ahrar al Sham T-72 tank at the recent battle of Wadi al Daif in Idlib province, Syria

It’s time once again to check in with The Long War Journal and see how things are going in Syria and Iraq. Oh, not good. The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, Ahrar al Sham, and elements of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army have reportedly taken Syrian Army positions in the northwestern province of Idlib.

The Al Nusrah Front, supported by jihadist groups Ahrar al Sham and Jund al Aqsa, and units from the Free Syrian Army, today claimed to have overrun Wadi Al Daif, a Syrian Army base located just east of the city of Maa’rat al Nu’man. In addition, Ahrar al Sham, Al Nusrah, and the Free Syrian Army also advanced on Al Hamadiya, which sits just south of the city; the groups claimed to have taken partial control of Al Hamadiya.

Control of the two bases is critical for the Syrian military as they straddle the M5 highway, the main road from Aleppo to Damascus.

Meanwhile in Iraq, ISIS has renewed its attack on Samarra and nearby towns.

The Islamic State seeks to control Samarra and towns and cites to its south in order to secure the northern Baghdad belt. Jihadist control of this area would make it difficult for Iraqi forces to resupply and reinforce military units north of the city. Additionally, the Islamic State would use this area to disrupt security in Baghdad.

The Iraqi government has allowed Shiite militias, including the Badr Brigade, Hezbollah Brigade, Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous), and Muqtada al Sadr’s Promised Day Brigade, all of which are supported by Iran’s Qods Force, to reinforce beleaguered and demoralized Iraqi forces in Samarra. These militias have remained on the front line and have secured cities and towns, many of which are predominantly Sunni communities, along the road from Samarra to Baghdad.

ISIS is also trying to consolidate its hold on Anbar Province.

Islamic State fighters launched an assault on al Wafa, which is west of the provincial capital of Ramadi, on Dec. 12 and defeated Iraqi security forces and local tribal fighters.

…The Islamic State maintains the initiative in Anbar province, most of which is under its control. The provincial capital of Ramadi and the town of Haditha remain contested terrain. The Iraqi military, the Awakening, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias have been unable to wrest control of the province from the Islamic state since Fallujah and other cities and towns fell in January 2013.

What is the USA doing?

Since Dec. 10, the US has conducted 16 airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, and the US and partners have carried out 29 airstrikes against the group in Iraq. President Obama told US troops: “The time of deploying large ground forces with big military footprints to engage in nation building overseas, that’s coming to an end.”

More info:
Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham advance in northwestern Syria
Islamic State releases pictures from recent fighting near Samarra (Note: some gruesome photos here)
Islamic State overruns town in Anbar, executes Awakening fighters
Al Nusrah Front uses American-made anti-tank missile in Idlib (Video)

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Save the Date: Mosul Counterattack Scheduled For January

Kurdish tank

Via CNN. Just don’t tell ISIS…

(CNN) — A military plan to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS could begin as soon as January using Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, a U.S. official confirmed to CNN.

The current plan is to assemble about 1,000 troops, with Iraqi forces approaching Mosul from the south and Peshmerga forces from the west, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But everything in the plan is “conditions based,” and the exact timing and size of the force to be used remains to be determined, the official said.

It’s unclear how the Kurdish fighters are supposed to get to a start line west of Mosul. They are currently facing ISIS forces to the southeast of the city.

UPDATE:
Military doctrine calls for reinforcing success whenever possible. Because only the Kurdish Peshmerga and some elite Iraqi units put up any resistance to ISIS, they are going to be the focus of U.S. military aid efforts. Even so, “about 1,000 troops” would be just the equivalent of one American infantry battalion. For an assault to re-take Mosul to be successful, the conventional rule of thumb dictates that the attackers outnumber defenders 3-1. I think this plan needs some more work.

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Fourth Generation Wars Don’t End Unilaterally

ISIS Abrams
Iraqi Army M-1 Abrams tank captured by ISIS

Here’s a military and foreign policy lesson that is being driven home by recent events in Iraq. In fourth-generation warfare (4GW), it’s not over when the USA says it’s over. Remember that whole populations are involved, and unlike foreign expeditionary forces from halfway around the world the local populace isn’t going anywhere. There is no nation state to be defeated, and no peace treaty will ever be signed.

The American military is nevertheless engaged in 4GW in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this means we are faced with the decision to (1) stay committed to an open-ended conflict without any hope of a decisive result, or (2) let the war we started (or got into while in progress) go on without us, possibly with results counter to our foreign policy goals.

There was a third option, (3) spend tens of billions of dollars to train and equip friendly(?) local government(?) forces to take over for U.S. soldiers. That was tried in Iraq and Afghanistan, and failed (most spectacularly in Iraq). Somebody please tell the Obama administration, because they are planning to try this again.

DSWright on FDL comments on the Pentagon’s latest plans:

A multiyear campaign that requires more assistance – in other words, the US is back in the nation building business in Iraq. Of course we just saw the results of a multiyear campaign to provide military assistance – total capitulation. So why not do it again? It’s only the age of austerity for domestic spending.

…The American people gave Barack Obama the presidency largely based on his promise to get out of Iraq – the more we learn how worthless our actions are in Iraq the clearer it is that that’s a promise worth keeping.

Apparently the Washington politicians of both major parties are up for another round of war in the Middle East, only this time we’re fighting in Syria too. Does anybody think this is a good idea?

More info:
Too much money spent in Iraq for too few results
Veterans not surprised Iraq’s Army collapsed
Economic Costs Summary: $4.4 Trillion and Counting
Everyone in America Could Go to College for Free for the Amount of Money Spent on Mideast Wars

UPDATE:

U.S.: Ground Offensive Against Islamic State Still Months Away

“Until the Abadi government can get on its feet and kind of deliver some small successes, I don’t think, I don’t think we’re in a position to make any promises on behalf of that government,” the official said.

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Dear Rep. Chaffetz: ISIS and the PKK Are Not The Same

Today, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson debunked the false Faux News Channel claim that ISIS terrorists have been apprehended along the Mexican border (emphasis added):

[F]our foreigners who were apprehended after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border did not have ties to terrorism and were in fact members of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), an organization that is fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)…

When can we expect Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) to return to Faux News and admit he was wrong?

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ISIS Advances Continue Despite Air Strikes

Turkish tanks
M-60A3 tanks of Turkish Armed Forces standing by at the Turkey-Syria border, as ISIS and Kurdish armed groups fight for control of nearby Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) on October 6, 2014. (Photo by Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The current situation in the war against ISIS, via CNN:

The United States and its allies have made at least 271 airstrikes in Iraq and 116 in Syria.

The cost? More than $62 million for just the munitions alone.

The effect? Negligible, some say, particularly in Iraq.

One by one, the cities have fallen to ISIS like dominoes: Hit, Albu Aytha, Kubaisya, Saqlawia and Sejal.

And standing on the western outskirts of Baghdad, ISIS is now within sight.

The Long War Journal reports that ISIS captured a battalion of tanks (that’s up to 54 tanks) at Hit after they were abandoned by fleeing Iraqi soldiers.

The U.S. is now flying risky missions around Fallujah using AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. This means the “air war” now openly includes ground combat, because American military doctrine (PDF) classifies an attack helicopter force as a maneuver element, the same as infantry or armor.

Meanwhile in Syria, ISIS is about to occupy the town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) on the Turkish border. Turkey has refused to aid the Kurdish defenders, despite U.S. requests. Air strikes in the vicinity of Kobani have failed to stop the three-week assault on the town.

UPDATES:
Why Everyone Is Sitting Back And Letting ISIS Conquer A Key Syrian Town
Turkey’s Refusal To Help Besieged Kurds Fight ISIS Is Backfiring
As They Battle ISIS For Kurdish Town, U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Question Support
This Is How Close The Fight Against ISIS Is To Turkey’s Border
Islamic State Advances Deeper Into Kobani
ISIS Battles Iraqi Forces Near Baghdad

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Bombs Away in Syria

Syria strike
An F/A-18E Super Hornet and an F/A-18F Super Hornet prepare to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush

The Obama administration has ramped up the air war against ISIS by attacking bases in Syria. The operation – which employed Tomahawk missiles, B1 bombers, fighter-bombers and drones – was supported by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and the UAE. According to reports, the $139 million F-22 stealth fighter jet saw combat for the first time ever during the strikes over Raqqa. The U.S. also carried out separate raids on the little-known al-Qaeda group Khorasan near Aleppo, possibly killing Muhsin al-Fadhli, a veteran al-Qaeda operative.

Gareth Evans points out the obvious fact that strategic bombing isn’t going to succeed where the 8-year U.S. occupation of Iraq failed.

The competence of Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces — crucial if territory is to be taken and held — will take time to build up, and may never be achievable with the so-called moderate forces within Syria. Airstrikes anywhere risk civilian casualties — and thus the possibility of inflaming the very sentiments one is trying to counter.

Moreover, airstrikes in Syria without the government’s consent or Security Council authorization will be manifestly in breach of the United Nations Charter.

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Destroy ISIS – That’s The Objective?

ISIS

President Obama is now the fourth President in a row who’s leading us into war in Iraq. Additionally, he again wants to attack Syria (but Washington seems to have switched sides in the Syrian civil war since a year ago). Considering the outcomes of previous American military adventures in the Middle East, is this really a good idea? The plan, such as it is, will consist of using mostly air power and special operations forces in cooperation with allied ground forces. The stated objective is to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” ISIS. However, we’ve failed to “destroy” any of the Islamic insurgent forces we’ve fought against over the past 13 years – they are all still thriving, including ISIS (which started out as al-Qaeda in Iraq).

Rajiv Chandrasekaran in the WaPo:

“Harder than anything we’ve tried to do thus far in Iraq or Afghanistan” is how one U.S. general involved in war planning described the challenges ahead… “This is the most complex problem we’ve faced since 9/11. We don’t have a precedent for this.”

Adding to the level of difficulty is the fact that the USA will be fighting on the same side as Bashir al-Assad, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Iran. And the nascent Iraqi government of of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is an uncertain ally at best. Probably half the Iraqi Army has been rendered combat-ineffective as a result of ISIS advances.

More info:
5 Questions About The War Against ISIS That No One Should Be Embarrassed To Ask

UPDATE:
John Kerry Says U.S. Is ‘At War’ With ISIS. Last week he claimed just the opposite.

58 Comments

Tom Engelhardt: ISIS Can Thank Washington

ISIS

At this point, I think everyone has finally realized that following the al-Qaeda game plan post-9/11 didn’t turn out well. The aim of strategy is to force the enemy to conform to your will. Al-Qaeda had a strategy, and we really didn’t. The Bush administration sent our military to chase after who-knows-who in some 60 countries. When President Obama says, “we don’t have a strategy yet” to avoid spending more trillions and more American lives to give ISIS exactly what they want, he is stating a fact.

Tom Engelhardt (emphasis added):

Though the militants of ISIS would undoubtedly be horrified to think so, they are the spawn of Washington. Thirteen years of regional war, occupation, and intervention played a major role in clearing the ground for them. They may be our worst nightmare (thus far), but they are also our legacy — and not just because so many of their leaders came from the Iraqi army we disbanded, had their beliefs and skills honed in the prisons we set up (Camp Bucca seems to have been the West Point of Iraqi extremism), and gained experience facing U.S. counterterror operations in the “surge” years of the occupation. In fact, just about everything done in the war on terror has facilitated their rise. After all, we dismantled the Iraqi army and rebuilt one that would flee at the first signs of ISIS’s fighters, abandoning vast stores of Washington’s weaponry to them. We essentially destroyed the Iraqi state, while fostering a Shia leader who would oppress enough Sunnis in enough ways to create a situation in which ISIS would be welcomed or tolerated throughout significant areas of the country.

“Blowback” can’t even begin to describe a strategic failure of this magnitude. It would be nice to think that the Obama administration has the intelligence and fortitude to design a new strategy that goes beyond “don’t do stupid shit.” I don’t think that. Nobody in Washington is prepared to call the Global War on Terror an utter failure, or admit that ISIS could not have triumphed without our help. It’s reasonable to predict the USA will keep doing the same thing (if only for lack of a better idea), hoping for different results.

UPDATE:
ISIS Is Beheading Journalists to Lure America Into Another Ground War. Remember the Iraq War’s Lessons

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Iraq War III

ISIS flag

Here we go again. Iraq War updates via HuffPo.

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President Obama: ‘We Tortured Some Folks’… And We Still Do

Last Friday, President Obama informed a White House press conference that the U.S. government has engaged in torture as a matter of policy. Not that he plans to do anything about that. In fact, he hasn’t even banned every torture technique in use by the CIA and the military.

“We tortured some folks,” he said. “We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and a plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law-enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.”

The fallacy here, whether or not it’s intentional, lies in the fact that torture (in addition to being a crime under federal law) is not an intelligence interrogation technique. The experts will all tell you that torture is good for one thing only: extracting false confessions. The Bush administration employed torture to get some detainees to say what they wanted to hear, namely that Saddam Hussein’s regime was tied in with al-Qaeda. For example the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan national captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, provided false information regarding chemical weapons training between Iraq and al-Qaeda that was used by the Bush Administration in their efforts to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq. Al-Libi recanted in January 2004. This sort of thing is what they now call “faulty intelligence” instead of lies.

President Obama is getting credit simply for using the dreaded “T” word that the media usually avoid by talking about American “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Of course reporters are not afraid say “torture” to describe what China does to prisoners, for example, even if it’s the exact same thing the CIA did.

On FDL, Jeff Kaye picks up on something important. Here’s what else the president said, referring to the still-secret Senate Select Committee torture report (emphasis added):

And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

Kaye notes:

Only “some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques”? Not all? Was this merely a slip of the tongue by the President? No one in the press corp seemed to notice, and no one took him up on the issue… though it is very much worth noting that Jeremy Scahill reported in July 2011 on the CIA’s continuing use of black sites and torture in an important article in The Nation. Others had surmised as much even earlier.

Apparently President Obama, whether he meant to or not, has confirmed for the record that torture is still practiced by the U.S. government.

More info:
Obama Admits He Banned Only “Some” of the CIA’s Torture Techniques

UPDATES:

Fox Gives Liz Cheney A Platform To Attack Obama For Mentioning Torture
White House To Make Torture Report ‘Impossible To Understand’

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Iraq Update – Depends On Who You Believe

ISIS truck column

The Iraqi Army is either locked in a stalemate in the battle for Tikrit and surrounding areas about 100 miles northwest of Baghdad, or (according to a claim by ISIS) has completely lost the city and Camp Speicher, a nearby military post and helicopter base.

Here’s the story according to The Long War Journal:

The Iraqi military made its first effort to retake Tikrit in late June, when it airlifted commandos into Tikrit University in an effort to gain a toehold north of the city. An advance on the city from the south was defeated. Then, on July 16, the Iraqi military launched Operation Decisive Sword. A large column of military and militia units entered southern Tikrit and thought they liberated the city, but as they celebrated they were ambushed with suicide bombers, IEDs, and conventional attacks. The Iraqi forces then withdrew from the city.

After the Iraqi military withdrew from southern Tikrit on July 16, the Islamic State immediately began its assault on Camp Speicher, as the base was the last remaining holdout of Iraqi forces near the city (Iraqi forces were withdrawn from Tikrit University sometime before the second offensive was launched).

The loss of Camp Speicher, and perhaps more importantly, the loss of the helicopters and its pilots if the Islamic State’s claims are true, is a serious blow to both the morale and the operational capabilities of the Iraqi military. The Iraqi military, which has failed to retake major cities and towns from the Islamic State and its allies, now may find it more difficult to support and defend the Bayji oil refinery just to the north, which has been largely resupplied by helicopters.

The Daily Beast cast doubt on the ISIS claim of victory in Tikrit:

On Friday, multiple news reports claimed that ISIS had won a major victory, seizing control of a vital army base outside of Tikrit and killing or capturing the hundreds of soldiers stationed there. If true, ISIS’s capture of Camp Speicher would signal a crucial turning point in the battle for the city and a humiliating setback for the Iraqi Army.

But the reports are false according to multiple Iraqi sources, who say Speicher was attacked on Friday but that ISIS never entered the base. According to an Iraqi Army soldier, who said he is currently stationed at the base: “Ten suicide bombers tried to blow themselves up at the gate so 15 more ISIS fighters in support could enter the base but we killed all of them. Only one Iraqi soldier was killed.”

Even if neither side is in control of Tikrit, the Iraqi government remains in deep serious trouble. A week ago The Long War Journal estimated that half of Iraq’s 15 army divisions have become ineffective or have completely disappeared.

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What’s the worst that can happen?

This is a question that must have been asked 12 years ago when the US invaded Iraq. Well the initial predictions were positive. The war will be quick, cheap, we will be hailed as liberators, there will be peace, so on and so forth. Of course none of that happened. They were dead wrong, but even me when I witnessed the reports of chaos in Iraq, I could not comprehend that this would happen. What is the worst that can happen? ISIS can happen. The relatively new Islamic terrorist group is different from other organizations because they are successful. They have the oil fields, they are surrounding Baghdad, they have both Iraqi and American weapons in their inventory and they are gaining more ground. This is made worse by their tendency to be very destructive. So far, over 1,700 Iraqi troops have been executed. So yes, that is the worst that can happen and the Bush administration is completely at fault no matter how indirectly this is. Maybe this is a question Obama should consider, especially with an upcoming midterm and a country filled with pissed off liberals.

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