Mo­sul vic­tory marks win for Pen­tagon train­ing plan

US-led strat­egy in Iraq, Syria, a non-stop air cam­paign

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON: The Iraqi mil­i­tary’s hard-fought vic­tory over the Is­lamic State group in Mo­sul marks a defin­ing moment not just for them. It is also a key win for the US doc­trine be­hind it. In­stead of putting large num­bers of Amer­i­can boots on the ground, the US-led strat­egy in Iraq and Syria has been a non-stop air cam­paign com­bined with con­tin­ual train­ing and ad­vis­ing for proxy lo­cal forces. Pen­tagon of­fi­cials say the out­come is clear-three years af­ter col­laps­ing as flag-wav­ing ji­hadists swept across their coun­try, Iraq’s se­cu­rity forces have be­come a bat­tle-hard­ened army that pre­vailed in a bru­tal ur­ban fight.

“Train­ing works,” said one se­nior US mil­i­tary of­fi­cer who was de­ployed to Iraq from 2015-’16. It “has en­abled the Iraqis to take back their coun­try.” It’s a far cry from when then-Pen­tagon chief Ash­ton Carter said in May 2015 that the Iraqi mil­i­tary “showed no will to fight.” When IS at­tacked in 2014, the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces had grown weak un­der then-prime min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki. Troops turned and ran, of­ten with­out a fight, dump­ing pre­cious US-pro­vided weaponry and ve­hi­cles as they fled.

“It was stun­ning,” the mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said. “Even ISIS had to have been sur­prised at how rapidly the Iraqi army ut­terly just fell apart.” The skills they’d learned un­der pre­vi­ous US tute­lage from 2008-2011 cen­tered on fight­ing an in­sur­gency-not stop­ping a fast-mov­ing ji­hadist army. “We needed an army that could fight con­ven­tion­ally,” the of­fi­cial said. The de­ci­sion to use a few hun­dred US troops and other Western mil­i­tary ex­perts to train lo­cal fight­ers stems partly from the Iraq War, which saw more than 4,400 US troops die. A US public wary of ad­di­tional de­ploy­ments did not want Barack Obama recom­mit­ting more com­bat troops.

New skills

Obama or­dered air strikes and pur­sued a strat­egy - known in the Pen­tagon as “by, with and through” - to train lo­cal forces. In the sum­mer of 2015, coali­tion ad­vis­ers started in­struct­ing Iraqis on con­ven­tional war­fare-fight­ing in small units, set­ting up de­fenses, how to breech mine­fields and so on. By the end of that year, the Iraqis be­gan strik­ing back at IS, in­clud­ing with the re­cap­ture of Ra­madi.

As of this month, the coali­tion had trained about 106,000 Iraqi se­cu­rity forces, in­clud­ing 40,000 Iraqi troops, 15,000 po­lice, 6,000 bor­der guards, 21,000 Kur­dish pesh­merga, 14,000 from the elite Counter Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice and an­other 9,500 “tribal mo­bi­liza­tion forces.” The toll has been bru­tal, with thou­sands of Iraqi forces killed. But since anti-IS op­er­a­tions be­gan in Iraq and Syria in 2014, only 11 US troops have been killed. The US mil­i­tary is try­ing a sim­i­lar strat­egy with Afghan se­cu­rity forces in their fight against a resur­gent Tal­iban.

Only horse we had

For Brian McKeon, a se­nior Pen­tagon pol­icy of­fi­cial at the end of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, the strat­egy worked, though not as quickly as had been hoped. The bat­tle for Mo­sul first be­gan on Oc­to­ber 16, 2016. Once the de­ci­sion was made to work “by with and through part­ners... it was the only horse that we had to ride,” McKeon said. “It has taken longer than might have been as­sessed at the be­gin­ning but that’s not re­ally un­usual. No plan sur­vives first con­tact and you never know where it’s go­ing to go, given the large num­ber of vari­ables in a war.”

The strat­egy of sup­port­ing a proxy army will be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant as the United States shies away from full-on de­ploy­ments. For John Spencer, a scholar at the Modern War In­sti­tute at West Point, the fight for Mo­sul has been “the big­gest modern case study fore­shad­ow­ing what (ur­ban) war is go­ing to be like in the fu­ture.” “It’s kind of the ul­ti­mate end of that scale where you build an army, a po­lice force, and a coun­tert­er­ror­ism force that are ca­pa­ble of fight­ing, and you send only a few hun­dred troops and air sup­port to help,” he said. —AFP

—AFP

MO­SUL: A mem­ber of Iraq’s fed­eral po­lice kisses a girl as forces cel­e­brate in the Old City of Mo­sul af­ter the gov­ern­ment’s an­nounce­ment of the ‘lib­er­a­tion’ of the em­bat­tled city.

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