Just days ago, the generals were trumpeting plans to knock Islamic State (ISIS) savages out of Mosul, its most important stronghold in Iraq, in the next few weeks. Now, those plans are on indefinite hold. Fall is more realistic. But even that date is tenuous.
The Daily Beast The U.S. military’s goal to retake Iraq’s second largest city from the self-proclaimed Islamic State has been pushed back several months at least, defense officials told The Daily Beast. That’s a major shift for the Pentagon, which recently announced that the first major ground offensive in the war against ISIS could come in the next few weeks.
Defense officials once hoped that Iraqi troops could move into Mosul by the Spring and reclaim the city from ISIS. Now, those officials say, Fall is more realistic. And even that date was tenuous.
“It is an Iraqi decision (sure it is) but we don’t want to do anything until they are ready and can win decisively,” a military official explained to the Daily Beast. “They cannot now.”
It’s another sign that the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS isn’t going nearly as smoothly as the American government had hoped. (There is no campaign, that’s the problem) At the Pentagon Friday, Defense Department spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby shied away from any kind of timeline, saying: “I can’t put a date certain…nor say April is out.”
A group within U.S. government pushed for a Spring offensive out of concern that the next opportunity to launch such a campaign would not be until the Fall. But these policymakers appeared to have been trumped by those fearing that Iraqi forces are nowhere near ready.
The shift away from the Spring began in the last few days, in part because officials could not agree publicly about whether the Iraqi forces would be ready for the fight. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that it would be “six to nine months, best estimate,” before Iraqi forces could be able to launch a major counteroffensive against ISIS.
“When we talk about the six to nine months additional training, it is to deal with an urban fight, which is very, very different, very complex, requires a great deal of skill, great deal of precision to be successful,” Stewart said. (I guess the fact we have been training the Iraqi Army in urban warfare for at least 8 years already is irrelevant?)
Earlier this month, a U.S. Central Command official gave a briefing to reporters saying that Iraqi forces could be ready by April or May to launch an offensive to take back the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS, where the group is entrenched. ISIS has controlled Mosul since June, when Iraqi troops fled their posts as ISIS forces stormed the city.
The proposed offensive would take as many as 25,000 troops assigned to at least eight Iraqi brigades, the CENTCOM official said on the condition of anonymity. The forces would seek to root out 2,000 ISIS fighters, he added. U.S. forces would support that campaign by the air, but the CENTCOM official did not offer any specifics.
There were sectarian considerations, as well. The Iraqi divisions who would likely lead such a campaign are majority Shiite forces; Mosul is a Sunni-dominated town and such sectarian delineations are important to all involved. Many worried that Sunnis in both Iraq and the broader Arab world would not accept a Shiite-dominated military force leading the campaign.
Still others were angry that the U.S. military decided to telegraph the mission and the details of it. Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham blasted the announcement in a letter to President Obama, calling the disclosure a risk to “the success of our mission, but could also cost the lives of U.S., Iraqi, and coalition forces.” (McCain can’t seem to decide which side he’s on)
But have no fear, the State Department has a TWITTER hashtag offensive in motion: