Is a campaign to oust ISIS from Mosul really just weeks away?

Joel Wing writes: On February 19, the first day of a conference on countering terrorism held by the White House a member of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) briefed reporters on an impending Mosul campaign. The official said that a force of 20,000-25,000 soldiers and peshmerga would retake the city in April or May. This would involve five army brigades, three peshmerga brigades, three reserve army brigades, a counterterrorism brigade, and a unit made up of Mosul locals who would hold the city after it was cleared of insurgents. The eight ISF brigades would all undergo training by the United States. They would face a force of 1,000-2,000 Islamic State fighters in the city. The American announcement came just three days after Prime Minister Haider Abadi gave an interview with the BBC in which he said Mosul would be freed in just a few months with minimal casualties. He went on to criticize the U.S. led coalition for taking so long to get involved in the fight against IS. Other Iraqi leaders have made similar negative comments about the Americans. When the insurgents launched their summer offensive in June the White House made it clear that it would only intervene after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was removed from office. That took several weeks, which proved to be the most critical period during the militant surge, as many believed that Baghdad would be besieged after Mosul and Tikrit fell. That delay made many Iraqis question how much Washington was committed to Iraq. Some even believe that the U.S. backs IS. Those types of comments were the main motivation for going public with the Mosul plan. The White House wanted to let Baghdad know that it was concerned about reversing the insurgency, and had a strategy in place to do it.

The fact that this was a political move and not a real timetable was made apparent quickly after the CENTCOM briefing. First the official said that if the Iraqis needed more time to prepare for the offensive it could be delayed. That was an out because the ISF will not be ready in two to three months. The U.S. is supposed to train roughly 16,000 Iraqi soldiers by April. As of February it had only put 3,400 soldiers through a basic 6-8 week course. Some of this training has been without weapons because Iraq’s notorious red tape has delayed their delivery. An officer in the Iraqi Defense Ministry told Bloomberg that the 8 brigades would not be ready until August. Second, this process will take even longer as 20,000-25,000 soldiers and peshmerga are not enough to assault a city the size of Mosul that has roughly 1-2 million people. In 2004 the U.S. used 10,500 troops to take Fallujah that had a population of approximately 350,000. Some 3,000-4,000 insurgents opposed them. Rather than the 1,000-2,000 IS fighters the CENTCOM briefer claimed are in Mosul Iraqi and Kurdish officials put the figure at more like 10,000. Given the size of the city and the number of insurgents the Americans will need to train roughly 40,000 Iraqis or more to have a credible chance at success. [Continue reading…]

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