Welcome to Iraq.
America's military experts advise Iraq to push ISIS back into Syria.
Iraqi security forces and their U.S. partners are divided about where to next confront Islamic State after their victory over the extremist group in Tikrit last week.
Both hope to capitalize on the momentum to reclaim all of the surrounding province of Salahudeen. The bulk of that effort will focus 25 miles northwest of the provincial capital Tikrit on the refinery city of Beiji, which is partially held by Islamic State forces.
Beyond that, the two sides diverge.
American officials say it makes the most sense to push further north toward Islamic State’s de facto capital of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
“It’s what makes tactical and operational sense,” said a U.S. military official. “You secure 50% of Iraq and the majority of populated Iraq, then you push west. You push the enemy back into Syria.”
But Iraqi militias, who cooperated with the government in the battle for Tikrit, plan to head west to rout Islamic State from their positions in cities along the Euphrates River in largely deserted Anbar province.
So what do we have here ???
At the level of jargon what we have is “The Surge” vs. “surround-and-annihilate.”
These are two very different strategies.
The American strategy derives from General David Petraeus. He did exactly what is described by this unnamed “U.S. military official.” He took charge in 2007. “The Surge” pushed what was then called Al-Qaeda in Iraq (by Americans) out of the northwest section of Baghdad and by mid-2008 out of what was left of Fallujah and Ramadi.
US Today reported: “U.S. deaths were at their lowest levels since the 2003 invasion, civilian casualties were down, and street life was resuming in Baghdad.”
Big win. Except that “The Surge” didn't kill all that many AQI fighters. They gave way leaving explosives and booby traps behind. Then they fell back into Syria. Today they recovered and intensified their ideology. They are called ISIS.
The alternative is a form of siege.
The Iraqi militias are led by Major General Qassem Suleimani. He ran the battles at al-Qusayr in Syria and Amerli, Jurf al-Sakhar, and Tikrit (and environs) in Iraq. In each of these set pieces, he demonstrated “surround-and-annihilate” by eliminating the ISIS or Nusrah Front/Jabhat al-Nusra force that gets caught in the siege.
Kurdish Peshmerga applies this system today to cut off an ISIS force between Baiji and Kirkuk. That is the Little Jeb River area. Their strategic aim is to prevent these units from joining up with the ISIS force at Mosul.
So pick 'em. Either go with General Petraeus or go with Major General Suleimani.
Going out to the Syrian border and closing off retreats is ambitious. That sets up a siege that bags no less than Anbar Province. That whole of what is predominantly Sunni Iraq. It also sets up a second siege around Mosul that traps the estimated 2,000 ISIS fighters in that pocket.
Corporate media repeat an estimate of the Shi'ia/Shia/Shiite militias at 30,000 fighters. That may work for one large group coming out of Baghdad a couple weeks ago, headed to Tikrit. 30,000 is certainly not the total for all of the main militias.
Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) is known to have 80,000 trained, organized fighters. The Badr Peace Group out of East Baghdad has at least 50,000. There are other militias for the major cities. When ISIS invaded and took Mosul and murdered the Air force cadets and trainees, they got another 500,000 volunteers.
They learned to fight taking on American Army and Marines.
You have to think that they can put 250,000 in the field. Logistics gets to be a routine drive out of Tikrit once Mosul is taken. The main threats will come from ISIS forces up in Syria.
What matters for a “surround-and-destroy” siege is artillery. The fighters on both sides are not career military men. What the battles come down to is contact spotting and landing such as lines of howitzers — each M198 155mm round delivers 24# blasts — on enemy concentrations.
ISIS fires mortar rounds wildly. They're amateurs.
A year ago they had dozens of the 20mm and 23mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks. Against field guns that doesn't do the job. The 23mm has a couple kilometers range at best. We have pics of Iraqi Security Force's M198s firing from 6 miles routinely during the Tikrit action. The pickups disappear to mangled sheet metal.
That's close in for any of the field guns. If ISIS had had 120mm rifled-barrel mortars and some means to ID the attackers, getting that close could have backfired on them.
Which way you think it's going to go ???
Badr's Karim al-Nouri is quoted in WSJ saying that a decision will be made within the next 10 days.
I'm betting on the double siege. Handle Mosul as a long-term problem. Take out the Tal Afar group in one action. The Kurds clear out the south. Then you get a final action there where a mix of troops takes their time using artillery for the hammer, total manpower around 40,000.
The Syrian border for Anbar could take another 50,000 troops with full artillery support. It is a long border to cover, even with American and Iranian drones up there 24/7. Each part of the border will make unique demands.
End game? ISIS loses 90% of the fighters who came down into Iraq by the end of 2015. Then the remaining 10% will have to be rooted out through the course of 2016 and 2017.
We will not see a hill of skulls. We should also not hold our breaths waiting for Wall Street Journal, a Murdoch propaganda outlet, to get a grip on the fundamentals of military tactics.