Pentagon: US ground troops may join Iraqis in combat against Isis
Spencer Ackerman, Guardian
Tuesday 16 September 2014 14.50 EDT
The Pentagon leadership suggested to a Senate panel on Tuesday that US ground troops may directly join Iraqi forces in combat against the Islamic State (Isis), despite US president Barack Obama’s repeated public assurances against US ground combat in the latest Middle Eastern war.
It was the most thorough public acknowledgement yet from Pentagon leaders that the roughly 1,600 US troops Obama has deployed to Iraq since June may in fact be used in a ground combat role, something Obama has directly ruled out, most recently in a televised speech last week.
Dempsey, who has for years warned about the “unintended consequences” of Americanizing the Syrian civil war that gave rise to Isis, said he envisioned “close combat advising” for operations on the order of taking Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, away from Isis.
He also opened the door to using US “advisers” to call in air strikes from the ground, something Dempsey said they have thus far not done but which the US Central Command leader, General Lloyd Austin, initially thought would be necessary when pushing Isis away from the Mosul Dam last month.
Isis’s ultimate defeat will be a “generational” effort, Dempsey said, during which “moderate” Muslims abandon its ideology – raising questions about what the US military’s actual endpoint will be in pursuing the goal of “degrading and ultimately defeating” Isis, Obama’s stated goal.
Obama to send 1,500 more troops to Iraq as campaign expands
By Phil Stewart and Roberta Rampton, Reuters
Fri Nov 7, 2014 6:44pm EST
President Barack Obama has approved sending up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq, roughly doubling the number of U.S. forces on the ground to advise and retrain Iraqis in their battle against the militant group Islamic State, U.S. officials said on Friday.
Obama’s decision greatly expands the scope of the U.S. campaign and the geographic distribution of American forces, some of whom will head into Iraq’s fiercely contested western Anbar province for the first time to act as advisors.
About 1,400 U.S. troops are now on the ground, just below the previous limit of 1,600 troops. The new authorization gives the U.S. military the ability to deploy up to 3,100 troops.
Kirby said many of the additional American troops would be dedicated to securing bases where training and advising would take place, but he cautioned that American troops still face risks.
“We already had a couple of military deaths associated with this conflict … Nothing we do is without risk,” he said.
Officials said one location to which military advisors would soon travel was western Anbar province, bordering Syria, where Islamic State fighters are on the offensive.
First US military death announced since Isis offensive started in Iraq
Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian
Friday 24 October 2014 23.49 EDT
Marine Lance Corporal Sean P Neal, one of 1,600 troops serving in Iraq to support the Iraqi struggle against Islamic State (Isis), died of a “non-combat” injury, the US announced late on Friday. Neal, of Riverside, California, died in Baghdad, more than 7600 miles from his home, on Thursday.
Neal, 19, was the first American acknowledged to have died in Operation Inherent Resolve, the US military’s new name for the war Obama launched on August 7. Americans have been dying in Iraq since 1991, some four years before Neal was born.
Technically, Neal may not have been the first US fatality of the Iraq-Syria war against the Islamic State. Naval forces assigned to US Central Command, which has operational control of the war, acknowledged on October 3 that a Marine, Corporal Jordan L. Spears, went missing at sea in the North Arabian Gulf after bailing out of his MV-22 Osprey. Spears took off from the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island, which carried Marines of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, assigned to support the war in Iraq and Syria.
Neal was a mortarman with the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. He was part of the special Marine air-ground task force that deployed to Iraq around September, according to the 1 Marine Expeditionary Force public affairs office. He had barely been in the Marines a year, having enlisted on July 22, 2013.
The Marines said the circumstances surrounding Neal’s death were under investigation. Marine Central Command did not immediately return inquiries seeking additional comment about how Neal died or what function he was performing in Iraq.
The second Iraq War, lasting from 2003 to 2011, claimed the lives of 4,487 American servicemembers.
Groups In Egypt And Libya Pledge Allegiance To ISIS
By: DSWright, Firedog Lake
Tuesday November 11, 2014 4:22 am
Militant Islamist groups in both Libya and Egypt have now pledged loyalty to ISIS and recognized the Islamic State. Despite efforts by governments in Iraq, Syria, neighboring states, and the US it appears ISIS has been able to continue to spread throughout the region. Though it is, in theory, incumbent upon Muslims to pledge loyalty to a caliphate once it is declared, most Muslims do not recognize the authority of ISIS. Not only do not all Muslims hold the theological views of ISIS but even many of those that do have yet to recognize ISIS as the best vehicle for the realization of the caliphate.
However, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis of Egypt and Jaish al-Isla of Libya have pledged their loyalty to ISIS and sought to both recruit others as well as emulate ISIS’ tactics of taking and holding territory. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is of a particular concern given both their location and capabilities while Jaish al-Isla appears more indicative of the collapse of Libya into fragments, providing another opening for ISIS.
What does seem to be clear is that the United States’ involvement in the fight against ISIS is not isolating the group. If anything, it has increased their popularity in the region and legitimized them among other Islamic militant groups.
America’s George W. Bush disorder: Why our new Iraq war is doomed to fail
Peter Van Buren, Salon
Tuesday, Nov 11, 2014 07:15 AM EST
Karl von Clausewitz, the famed Prussian military thinker, is best known for his aphorism “War is the continuation of state policy by other means.” But what happens to a war in the absence of coherent state policy?
Actually, we now know. Washington’s Iraq War 3.0, Operation Inherent Resolve, is what happens. In its early stages, I asked sarcastically, “What could possibly go wrong?” As the mission enters its fourth month, the answer to that question is already grimly clear: just about everything. It may be time to ask, in all seriousness: What could possibly go right?
Short answer: Almost nothing. Squint really, really hard and maybe the “good news” is that IS has not yet taken control of much of the rest of Iraq and Syria, and that Baghdad hasn’t been lost. These possibilities, however, were unlikely even without U.S. intervention.
And there might just possibly be one “victory” on the horizon, though the outcome still remains unclear. Washington might “win” in the IS-besieged Kurdish town of Kobane, right on the Turkish border. If so, it will be a faux victory guaranteed to accomplish nothing of substance. After all, amid the bombing and the fighting, the town has nearly been destroyed. What comes to mind is a Vietnam War-era remark by an anonymous American officer about the bombed provincial capital of Ben Tre: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”
More than 200,000 refugees have already fled Kobane, many with doubts that they will ever be able to return, given the devastation. The U.S. has gone to great pains to point out just how many IS fighters its air strikes have killed there. Exactly 464, according to a U.K.-based human rights group, a number so specific as to be suspect, but no matter. As history suggests, body counts in this kind of war mean little.
And that, folks, is the “good news.” Now, hold on, because here’s the bad news.
The U.S. Department of State lists 60 participants in the coalition of nations behind the U.S. efforts against the Islamic State. Many of those countries (Somalia, Iceland, Croatia, and Taiwan, among them) have never been heard from again outside the halls of Foggy Bottom. There is no evidence that America’s Arab “allies” like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, whose funding had long-helped extreme Syrian rebel groups, including IS, and whose early participation in a handful of air strikes was trumpeted as a triumph, are still flying.
Absent the few nations that often make an appearance at America’s geopolitical parties (Canada, the Brits, the Aussies, and increasingly these days, the French), this international mess has quickly morphed into Washington’s mess. Worse yet, nations like Turkey that might actually have taken on an important role in defeating the Islamic State seem to be largely sitting this one out. Despite the way it’s being reported in the U.S., the new war in the Middle East looks, to most of the world, like another case of American unilateralism, which plays right into the radical Islamic narrative.
Though Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi chose a Sunni to head the country’s Defense Ministry and direct a collapsed Iraqi army, his far more-telling choice was for Interior Minister. He picked Mohammed Ghabban, a little-known Shia politician who just happens to be allied with the Badr Organization.
Even if few in the U.S. remember the Badr folks, every Sunni in Iraq does. During the American occupation, the Badr militia ran notorious death squads, after infiltrating the same Interior Ministry they basically now head. The elevation of a Badr leader to – for Sunnis – perhaps the most significant cabinet position of all represents several nails in the coffin of Iraqi unity. It is also in line with the increasing influence of the Shia militias the Baghdad government has called on to defend the capital at a time when the Iraqi Army is incapable of doing the job.
Those militias have used the situation as an excuse to ramp up a campaign of atrocities against Sunnis whom they tag as “IS,” much as in Iraq War 2.0 most Sunnis killed were quickly labeled “al-Qaeda.” In addition, the Iraqi military has refused to stop shelling and carrying out air strikes on civilian Sunni areas despite a prime ministerial promise that they would do so. That makes al-Abadi look both ineffectual and disingenuous. An example? This week, Iraq renamed a town on the banks of the Euphrates River to reflect a triumph over IS. Jurf al-Sakhar, or “rocky bank,” became Jurf al-Nasr, or “victory bank.” However, the once-Sunni town is now emptied of its 80,000 residents, and building after building has been flattened by air strikes, bombings, and artillery fire coordinated by the Badr militia.
Meanwhile, Washington clings to the most deceptive trope of Iraq War 2.0: the claim that the Anbar Awakening – the U.S. military’s strategy to arm Sunni tribes and bring them into the new Iraq while chasing out al-Qaeda-in-Iraq (the “old” IS) – really worked on the ground. By now, this is a bedrock truth of American politics.
Having deluded itself into believing this myth, Washington now hopes to recreate the Anbar Awakening and bring the same old Sunnis into the new, new Iraq while chasing out IS (the “new” al-Qaeda).
To convince yourself that this will work, you have to ignore the nature of the government in Baghdad and believe that Iraqi Sunnis have no memory of being abandoned by the U.S. the first time around. What comes to mind is one commentator’s view of the present war: if at first we don’t succeed, do the same thing harder, with better technology, and at greater expense.
Unlike the U.S., the Islamic State has a coherent strategy and it has the initiative. Its militants have successfully held and administered territory over time. When faced with air power they can’t counter, as at Iraq’s giant Mosul Dam in August, its fighters have, in classic insurgent fashion, retreated and regrouped. The movement is conducting a truly brutal and bloody hearts and minds-type campaign, massacring Sunnis who oppose them and Shias they capture. In one particularly horrific incident, IS killed over 300 Sunnis and threw their bodies down a well. It has also recently made significant advances toward the Kurdish capital, Erbil, reversing earlier gains by the peshmerga. IS leaders are effectively deploying their own version of air strikes – suicide bombers – into the heart of Baghdad and have already loosed the first mortars into the capital’s Green Zone, home of the Iraqi government and the American Embassy, to gnaw away at morale.
IS’s chief sources of funding, smuggled oil and ransom payments, remain reasonably secure, though the U.S. bombing campaign and a drop in global oil prices have noticeably cut into its oil revenues. The movement continues to recruit remarkably effectively both in and outside the Middle East. Every American attack, every escalatory act, every inflated statement about terrorist threats validates IS to its core radical Islamic audience.
Things are trending poorly in Syria as well. The Islamic State profits from the power vacuum created by the Assad regime’s long-term attempt to suppress a native Sunni “moderate” uprising. Al-Qaeda-linked fighters have just recently overrun key northern bastions previously controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian rebel groups and once again, as in Iraq, captured U.S. weapons have landed in the hands of extremists. Nothing has gone right for American hopes that moderate Syrian factions will provide significant aid in any imaginable future in the broader battle against IS.
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey has twice made public statements revealing his dissatisfaction with White House policy. In September, he said it would take 12,000 to 15,000 ground troops to effectively go after the Islamic State. Last month, he suggested that American ground troops might, in the future, be necessary to fight IS. Those statements contrast sharply with Obama’s insistence that there will never be U.S. combat troops in this war.
Taken as a whole, the military’s near-mutinous posture is eerily reminiscent of MacArthur’s refusal to submit to President Harry Truman’s political will during the Korean War. But don’t hold your breath for a Trumanesque dismissal of Dempsey any time soon. In the meantime, the Pentagon’s sights seem set on a fall guy, likely Susan Rice, who is particularly close to the president.
The Pentagon has laid down its cards and they are clear enough: the White House is mismanaging the war. And its message is even clearer: given the refusal to consider sending in those ground-touching boots, Operation Inherent Resolve will fail. And when that happens, don’t blame us; we warned you.
The U.S. military came out of the Vietnam War vowing one thing: when Washington went looking for someone to blame, it would never again be left holding the bag. According to a prominent school of historical thinking inside the Pentagon, the military successfully did what it was asked to do in Vietnam, only to find that a lack of global strategy and an over-abundance of micromanagement from America’s political leaders made it seem like the military had failed. This grew from wartime mythology into bedrock Pentagon strategic thinking.
The idea worked almost too well, reaching its peak in Iraq War 1.0, Operation Desert Storm. In the minds of politicians from president George H.W. Bush on down, that “victory” wiped the slate clean of Vietnam, only to set up every disaster that would follow from the Bush 43 wars to Obama’s air strikes today. You don’t have to have a crystal ball to see the writing in the sand in Iraq and Syria. The military can already sense the coming failure that hangs like a miasma over Washington.
In or out, boots or not, whatever its own mistakes and follies, those who run the Pentagon and the U.S. military are already campaigning strategically to win at least one battle: when Iraq 3.0 collapses, as it most surely will, they will not be the ones hung out to dry. Of the very short list of what could go right, the smart money is on the Pentagon emerging victorious – but only in Washington, not the Middle East.
Just something to think about this Remembrance Day.