Blogs: The Skeptics

Exclusive: On the Front Lines Facing ISIS

Exclusive: The Coming Battle for Mosul Will Be Tougher Than You Think

ISIS fighters have left easily identifiable and targetable buildings and embedded themselves in the civil population. They have also been preparing for an assault for months, planting roadside bombs, booby traps, and spread mines to make the attack expensive for the coalition. Knowing they can't defend the whole city they will likely concentrate their forces in the most defensible sectors of Mosul. ISIS may well try to turn Mosul into a bloody stalemate along the lines of Aleppo in Syria, cause high casualties among Iraqi troops, causing the attackers lose heart and quit. Such a hope is hardly without basis.  

General Yassin has concerns that even with additional training, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) will not be able to stand up under the fierce fighting of a contested urban fight. He said he worried that some of the newly trained and equipped Iraqi brigades might be driven back by ISIS and lose their equipment again. Two weeks after our interview some new Iraqi units were rumored to have done exactly that, running from a fight and leaving their equipment behind, which ISIS quickly absorbed.  

The United States is trying to stave off such outcomes by sending more trainers and advisors down to brigade and battalion level. Regardless of how many outstanding United States advisors the Pentagon may send, however, U.S. troops are currently not allowed to actually take part in the frontline fighting. How firmly the trained and advised ISF troops will fight when on their own is uncertain. Under such conditions, senior DoD officials’ optimism in hoping for a successful recapture of Mosul and the “end game” for the war seems shortsighted. 

The situation facing the United States right now is this: it is unclear whether or not the ISF will be able to wrest control of Mosul from ISIS. Whether they succeed or not, another wave of displaced persons is sure to flee the city once the assault begins, placing enormous strain on surrounding areas, and causing Europe more headaches as more refugees seek asylum there. And even if the coalition troops are eventually able to retake Mosul, it is likely the Islamic radicals will adjust their tactics and objectives, and continue the struggle elsewhere.  

From a strategic point of view, regardless of how the fight for Mosul turns out, the effort will cost America some of her blood and possibly billions of dollars, yet leave the state of the Middle East effectively unchanged: chaotic, violent, and unstable. How this expensive and inconclusive effort supports American vital national interests has yet to be explained. 

It is time the U.S. Congress – the only body Constitutionally charged to oversee the military – begins to fulfill its role and demand answers of the uniformed and civilian military leaders.  

Daniel L. Davis is a widely published analyst on national security and foreign policy. He retired as a Lt. Col. after twenty-one years in the U.S. Army, including four combat deployments, and is a member of the Center for Defense Information's Military Advisory Board. The views in these articles are those of the author alone and do not reflect the position of the U.S. Government. Follow him on Twitter @DanielLDavis1. 

Image: A Peshmerga fighter. Copyright Daniel L. Davis. 

 

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ISIS fighters have left easily identifiable and targetable buildings and embedded themselves in the civil population. They have also been preparing for an assault for months, planting roadside bombs, booby traps, and spread mines to make the attack expensive for the coalition. Knowing they can't defend the whole city they will likely concentrate their forces in the most defensible sectors of Mosul. ISIS may well try to turn Mosul into a bloody stalemate along the lines of Aleppo in Syria, cause high casualties among Iraqi troops, causing the attackers lose heart and quit. Such a hope is hardly without basis.  

General Yassin has concerns that even with additional training, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) will not be able to stand up under the fierce fighting of a contested urban fight. He said he worried that some of the newly trained and equipped Iraqi brigades might be driven back by ISIS and lose their equipment again. Two weeks after our interview some new Iraqi units were rumored to have done exactly that, running from a fight and leaving their equipment behind, which ISIS quickly absorbed.  

The United States is trying to stave off such outcomes by sending more trainers and advisors down to brigade and battalion level. Regardless of how many outstanding United States advisors the Pentagon may send, however, U.S. troops are currently not allowed to actually take part in the frontline fighting. How firmly the trained and advised ISF troops will fight when on their own is uncertain. Under such conditions, senior DoD officials’ optimism in hoping for a successful recapture of Mosul and the “end game” for the war seems shortsighted. 

The situation facing the United States right now is this: it is unclear whether or not the ISF will be able to wrest control of Mosul from ISIS. Whether they succeed or not, another wave of displaced persons is sure to flee the city once the assault begins, placing enormous strain on surrounding areas, and causing Europe more headaches as more refugees seek asylum there. And even if the coalition troops are eventually able to retake Mosul, it is likely the Islamic radicals will adjust their tactics and objectives, and continue the struggle elsewhere.  

From a strategic point of view, regardless of how the fight for Mosul turns out, the effort will cost America some of her blood and possibly billions of dollars, yet leave the state of the Middle East effectively unchanged: chaotic, violent, and unstable. How this expensive and inconclusive effort supports American vital national interests has yet to be explained. 

It is time the U.S. Congress – the only body Constitutionally charged to oversee the military – begins to fulfill its role and demand answers of the uniformed and civilian military leaders.  

Daniel L. Davis is a widely published analyst on national security and foreign policy. He retired as a Lt. Col. after twenty-one years in the U.S. Army, including four combat deployments, and is a member of the Center for Defense Information's Military Advisory Board. The views in these articles are those of the author alone and do not reflect the position of the U.S. Government. Follow him on Twitter @DanielLDavis1. 

Image: A Peshmerga fighter. Copyright Daniel L. Davis. 

 

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ISIS fighters have left easily identifiable and targetable buildings and embedded themselves in the civil population. They have also been preparing for an assault for months, planting roadside bombs, booby traps, and spread mines to make the attack expensive for the coalition. Knowing they can't defend the whole city they will likely concentrate their forces in the most defensible sectors of Mosul. ISIS may well try to turn Mosul into a bloody stalemate along the lines of Aleppo in Syria, cause high casualties among Iraqi troops, causing the attackers lose heart and quit. Such a hope is hardly without basis.  

General Yassin has concerns that even with additional training, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) will not be able to stand up under the fierce fighting of a contested urban fight. He said he worried that some of the newly trained and equipped Iraqi brigades might be driven back by ISIS and lose their equipment again. Two weeks after our interview some new Iraqi units were rumored to have done exactly that, running from a fight and leaving their equipment behind, which ISIS quickly absorbed.  

The United States is trying to stave off such outcomes by sending more trainers and advisors down to brigade and battalion level. Regardless of how many outstanding United States advisors the Pentagon may send, however, U.S. troops are currently not allowed to actually take part in the frontline fighting. How firmly the trained and advised ISF troops will fight when on their own is uncertain. Under such conditions, senior DoD officials’ optimism in hoping for a successful recapture of Mosul and the “end game” for the war seems shortsighted. 

The situation facing the United States right now is this: it is unclear whether or not the ISF will be able to wrest control of Mosul from ISIS. Whether they succeed or not, another wave of displaced persons is sure to flee the city once the assault begins, placing enormous strain on surrounding areas, and causing Europe more headaches as more refugees seek asylum there. And even if the coalition troops are eventually able to retake Mosul, it is likely the Islamic radicals will adjust their tactics and objectives, and continue the struggle elsewhere.  

From a strategic point of view, regardless of how the fight for Mosul turns out, the effort will cost America some of her blood and possibly billions of dollars, yet leave the state of the Middle East effectively unchanged: chaotic, violent, and unstable. How this expensive and inconclusive effort supports American vital national interests has yet to be explained. 

It is time the U.S. Congress – the only body Constitutionally charged to oversee the military – begins to fulfill its role and demand answers of the uniformed and civilian military leaders.  

Daniel L. Davis is a widely published analyst on national security and foreign policy. He retired as a Lt. Col. after twenty-one years in the U.S. Army, including four combat deployments, and is a member of the Center for Defense Information's Military Advisory Board. The views in these articles are those of the author alone and do not reflect the position of the U.S. Government. Follow him on Twitter @DanielLDavis1. 

Image: A Peshmerga fighter. Copyright Daniel L. Davis. 

 

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