Night ops

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Killing ISIS?


NYTimes map
Robert W. Merry at The National Interest writes, "America Must Destroy ISIS":
. . . ISIS represents an ominous threat to U.S. security if it is allowed to establish itself permanently as a state or quasistate in the heart of the Middle East. It’s easy to bemoan the tragic American foreign-policy folly of the past eleven years that has destabilized this crucial region and paved the way for this horrendous turn of events. But that doesn’t obviate the reality that those events now pose a serious threat to regional stability and the safety of the West and America.
Okay, suppose Mr. Merry has a case that we need to "bell the cat", but his answer of exactly how to accomplish the destruction of ISIS is . . . well, mouse-like:
 . . .[O]nce the decks have been cleared and a policy devised that is both coherent and comprehensive, the United States must move not just to thwart the ISIS menace, but to destroy it. It isn’t clear what that will take, but whatever it takes must be brought to bear.
Robin Simcox at the Foreign Affairs website has suggestions in, "Go Big or Go Home: Iraq Needs U.S. Ground Troops More Than Ever:
The U.S. government has set entirely understandable political goals for Iraq, but it has almost certainly chosen the wrong strategy for achieving them. Since the Iraqi city of Mosul fell to the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June, U.S. President Barack Obama has insisted that Iraq needs an inclusive government capable of winning support among not only the country’s Shia majority but also its Sunni minority. Obama also declared that the formation of such a government must precede any attempt to defeat ISIS. Washington’s current military intervention reflects that analysis: until Baghdad agrees to Washington’s political vision, the United States has declared that it will commit only to conducting limited air strikes -- that is to say, air strikes that are sufficient to halt the extremists’ progress but not to defeat them.

Washington’s strategy is backward. Any diplomatic leverage in Iraq would come from demonstrating that it can defeat ISIS. In other words, if the United States wants to influence the political situation in Iraq, it must first make itself an indispensable military player there.

If there is a consistent pattern in U.S. policy toward Iraq over the past several decades, it is that Washington can achieve significant diplomatic gains only if it is prepared to make significant military investments.
***
If Obama’s diplomatic goals are as significant as he claims, his military ambitions ought to match them. The United States should actively assume responsibility for decisively defeating ISIS. Needless to say, limited air strikes outside the northern Iraqi city of Erbil will not be sufficient to the task. Instead, the U.S. military should be actively ordered to attack ISIS positions in strongholds such as Mosul. The Iraqi air force has launched such attacks, but the United States’ military precision is greatly needed -- ISIS can be overthrown only if the Sunni civilian population agrees to support the mission, and that will happen only if civilian casualties are kept low.

Given their vast experience and world-class capabilities, U.S. special forces should be deployed to Iraq so that they can conduct counterterrorism operations, gather intelligence, and advise Iraqi forces. Washington should also extend military assistance to the Kurds in northern Iraq, and offer to provide their militias with the heavy military equipment they need to properly defend themselves. (Given that the Kurdish government is not a sovereign state, the provision of these arms may need to be organized by the CIA or other covert agencies rather than by the Pentagon.)

This mission would require a long-term commitment; in the absence of sustained attention and military force, terrorist networks tend to regenerate. It’s true that the mission would put the lives of U.S. troops in danger. But it’s the only military strategy that could accomplish a significant military goal -- namely, the decisive defeat of ISIS, a group that over the last decade has presented a clear threat to the West.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Margaret Keith/Released
At the same site, Michael O"Hanlon offers up How to Win in Iraq: Why Air Strikes Might Not be Enough:
Although the president has been correct to use only limited airpower so far (even while warning that U.S. involvement in Iraq could last for months), he needs to avoid any sense of complacency that he can limit the United States’ role to modest actions taken several thousand feet up in the air. For now, the United States’ only realistic goal in Iraq is to prevent further ISIS advances. But ultimately, the collective aim of the United States, Iraq, and others in the region should be to fully push back the radical and brutal group, which is committed to the creation of a caliphate throughout much of the broader Middle East and even parts of Europe, and is willing to employ brutal tactics to achieve its aims. This group simply cannot be allowed to remain in power in large sections of Iraq and Syria indefinitely.
***
But then we come back to the difficult questions. After containing ISIS, the United States will need to consider what comes next -- how to help form a suitable government in Baghdad and assist it in expelling ISIS from cities such as Fallujah, Mosul, Ramadi, and Tikrit, where its legions have by now largely infiltrated civilian populations. And here, Obama needs to be fair to his critics and avoid suggesting that those in favor of doing more want to return to the Iraq mission of 2003–2011. In fact, there are many options in between an all-out use of U.S. combat forces and the limited measures employed in recent days.

The history of using limited airpower in wars like this one shows that a few pinpricks from the sky rarely make a difference on the ground.
***
One option is to deploy a significant number of special operations teams, well above the very modest number that may be in in the theater now as part of the detachments of several hundred U.S. planners sent to Iraq over the last month. But how many? If there are 10,000 dedicated ISIS fighters that U.S. and Iraqi units must ultimately remove from the battlefield, experience in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests that the U.S. and Iraqi units will need to conduct perhaps several thousand raids informed by good intelligence. Ideally, the United States would strike hard, fast, and early in any operation so that the enemy does not have time to adjust. To do that, it would need up to several dozen in-country commando teams (or those based in neighboring countries in some cases), making for a grand total of 1,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops. In all likelihood, such a mission would last perhaps several months at peak intensity. However, the United States need not take the lead on most such operations and need not continue them indefinitely.

The other option involves a type of military unit, developed in recent years in Afghanistan, called a Security Force Assistance Team. This is a small team of 10­–20 U.S. soldiers who are embedded at the small-unit level within indigenous forces. Since elements of the Iraqi army have, in some cases, already dissolved, such advisory teams -- which live with and deploy into the field with their counterparts -- could be crucial for rebuilding good tactics, unit cohesion, confidence in the leadership, and tenacity, as well as designating targets for air strikes. Assuming that such teams might be deployed with most of Iraq’s army battalions, and assuming roughly ten battalions per division, there could be a need for up to 100 such U.S. teams. Again, these would need to stay in Iraq for a period of several months to perhaps one or two years.
Foreign Policy's website has its doubters about the "commitment" of this administration to keeps U.S. troops out of combat in Iraq against ISIS, as set out in Gordon Lubold's "Obama Pledge to Keep Troops Out of Combat May Fall Flat":
James Dubik, a retired Army three-star general who commanded U.S. forces in Mosul, said it's hard to square the administration's words when it comes to defining the U.S. mission there without accepting that U.S. forces are in combat. "Pretty narrow splitting of hairs," he said in an email.
I suspect someone will have to tell those folks on the ground in Iraq and the pilots flying missions over the country that it's not "combat" if the Administration says it isn't.

But there is that other thing that this Administration keeps forgetting - telling the other side that you are not really going to go to war with them or stay the course if you do get involved just allows the "bad guys" the comfort of knowing that you are, as the Chinese used to refer to the U.S. back in the Cold War days, a "paper tiger" whose words are ". . . full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing." Or to go back to the Foreign Policy piece:
Breen, who left the Army in 2006 and believes fighting IS is in the nation's security interests, said the White House is sending dual messages while trying to avoid acknowledging that American military personnel are operating in a war zone.

"Attempting to convey to the American people that this is an operation that is limited in its goals and limited in its scope, unfortunately conveys something to [IS] and others in the region that is not helpful," he said.
As we say in the South, "it's time to fish or cut bait" for this Administration.

They have the tools if they need them.

USNS Robert E. Peary (T-AKE 5), left, conducts a vertical replenishment with USS Bataan (LHD 5). USS Roosevelt (DDG 80) is in the background. Bataan is the flagship for the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (22nd MEU), is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class RJ Stratchko/Released)
UPDATE: The side of the fight Cut funding to ISIS and ISIS: World’s scariest terrorist group also the richest.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:35 PM

    Large scale precise air strikes by the US can stop the ISIS advance and with a improved Kurdish/Iraqis. That is basically how the US rolled back the Taliban after 9/11. Holding territory and getting the locals to setup a reasonably fair government is going to be the harder problem. Who is funding ISIS? that needs to be reigned also.

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