Saturday, March 26, 2016

The new Mosul offensive in Iraq against ISIS is not going well. Iraqi military already fled.

Iraqi soldiers involved in the Mosul offensive. The Daily Beast/Reuters

Iraqi soldiers involved in the new offensive against ISIS positions near Mosul have already fled after the battle did not go well. The Daily Beast. Iraqi troops tried to capture the strategic village of Nasr but were pushed back after light combat with ISIS.The offensive had already been slowed by ISIS snipers and IED's. Troops on the ground were furious about the lack of US airstrikes, which had been canceled due to weather. Though the Iraqi army inflicted some casualties on ISIS, the troops broke and fled after the threat of ISIS mortars. The panic seemed unfounded because no actual mortar rounds or bullets had actually been fired. In contrast, Kurdish Peshmerga forces, attached to the operation, laughed at the Iraqis and held their positions. The collapse of Iraqi forces comes a week after Iraqi troops abandoned a firebase, forcing US Marines to deploy 200 troops to hold the base, one of which was killed in a rocket attack. 

My Comment:
Not a good start to the Mosul operation. I have always said that the predictions saying that Mosul would be back in Iraqi hands by the end of the year were optimistic at best. I would now argue that the predictions are ludicrous at best. The Iraqi troops are just not up to the task. They are poorly trained and, quite frankly, rather cowardly. It's a leadership problem, plain and simple. 

And they are incredibly reliant on US air power. In this case the reason that they broke is that there weren't any airstrike available to dislodge ISIS. Once they heard that and realized that no help was coming, they decided that they couldn't stand on their own. This isn't the first time that this has happened. When Ramadi fell it wasn't because the Iraqi troops were outnumbered. They broke and fled because sandstorms had grounded US air support. Even though they outgunned ISIS and had far more troops, morale collapsed completely once it was clear that they weren't getting air support. 

This lack of morale is obviously a major problem with the Iraqi Army, and has been for quite some time. Iraqi troops, of questionable quality in the best of times, turn into complete wimps when they are left without support. That means that if there is too be an offensive against Mosul, they are going to extreme amounts of support from the United States and anyone else with an air force that wants to contribute. 

This is bad news for US goals in Iraq. Our main goal in Iraq isn't to support ground troops, it's to hit ISIS leaders and destroy their chemical weapons and car bomb factories. Every airstrike that has to be diverted to support troops on the ground is one that doesn't hit ISIS leadership. This is especially true when the ground troops aren't in any actual danger. The Iraqis, in this situation at least, should have been able to advance even without air support given how weak ISIS was in the area.

I think the problem is that the Iraqis don't have the population of senior NCO's and high ranking officers. After the Army was dissolved right after the invasion, Iraq lost most of its NCO's and officers. Some of those same people are now working for ISIS. They just don't have people with 10 to 20 years of experience that they need right now. Most of their people are green.

The non-commissioned officers should help keep the troops in line and kick a little ass when people are looking to flee. But the Iraqi ones seem to be failing to do so, probably because they are just as green and inexperienced as the troops that they are leading. If the leaders in the Iraqi Army are breaking, is it any wonder that the lower ranking privates are fleeing so easily? 

This is a major problem for the Iraqi military and I am not sure what the solution is. Even in peacetime it takes a long time and a lot of effort to make an effective military. Iraq doesn't have that luxury and they are under extreme pressure from ISIS. Indeed, if it wasn't for US airstrikes, as well as the efforts of the Kurdish Peshmerga, Iranian militia groups and the fact that ISIS is under attack in Syria, ISIS would have probably taken most of Iraq by now. 

The article mentioned that an alternative to these Iraqi army troops is the Iraqi Special Forces. While it is true that the Iraqi Special Forces are much better then regular troops, I think that they have been largely expended. They distinguished themselves in Ramadi and Fallujah, but they took very heavy casualties. And they are needed as a reserve force just in case ISIS manages to go on the offensive. The also lack the numbers needed to take a city as large as Mosul. 

I do have to say that the fact that ISIS hasn't managed to take any additional territory despite the weakness of the Iraqi army shows how much ISIS has fallen. US airstrikes have helped quite a bit, but what I think the turning point didn't happen in Iraq. It happened in Syria.

Russian airstrikes allowed the Syrian government to advance and put massive pressure on ISIS. ISIS had to withdraw from central Iraq in part due to the problems they are having in Syria. In the past, ISIS would have been able to reinforce these towns and cities, but there reserves have been depleted. They left those areas without a fight because they knew that even the Iraqi Army, as pathetic as it is, could destroy them if they didn't fall back. 

I also have to say that the obvious contrast between the Syrian military and the Iraqi one proves my point about the Iraqi Army's lack of NCO's and high ranking officers. Though the Syrian military is pretty awful by American standards, they are much more stable then the Iraqi one is, and that is even after many troops crossed over to the rebels or went AWOL. Had the Iraqi Army not been dissolved after the invasion of Iraq, I think they would be having less problems with leadership right now.  

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