Reactions to the Pentagon’s announcement of plans to retake Mosul have ranged from “so what,” to surprise to dismay and anger.
Among the latter are the reactions by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham who, according to the New York Times, sent “an angry letter” to President Obama arguing that the disclosures “not only risk the success of our mission, but could also cost the lives of U.S., Iraqi, and coalition forces.”
Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham demanded to know whether the White House had authorized the disclosures and said the officials responsible must be held accountable. The White House responded that it had no involvement in the briefing, noting in a statement by a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, Bernadette Meehan, that “the U.S. military makes a judgment about what information is shared regarding their operations.”
The disclosures also caught the new defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, by surprise. “The secretary is always concerned about operational security and wants us to be mindful that we don’t put information out there that isn’t necessary,” a senior defense official told reporters traveling with Mr. Carter on Friday to Afghanistan, his first overseas trip in his first week on the job.
But, the Times adds, “Despite all the second-guessing, it was not clear how useful or startling the disclosures will be to Islamic State fighters. For months, administration officials have telegraphed that the assault on Mosul would come in the spring, a timetable dictated by the summer heat and the religious calendar: Ramadan begins on June 17” and that the “size of the Iraqi military, and the number of brigades it could afford to devote to the Mosul operation, is not a mystery.”
However, the question on everyone’s mind has not been answered — or divulged: “whether the United States plans to deploy ground troops as air controllers, helping the Iraqis call in airstrikes on Islamic State positions.”
In remarks on Thursday at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, Secretary of State John Kerry recalled a conversation he had with a foreign minister of a country in northern Africa.
The conversation — “over a good dinner” — turned to the proselytizing and capture of young people by certain elements. “But what was chilling,” Kerry said, “this foreign minister said to me, they don’t have a five-year strategy; they have a 35-year strategy. And so we have to come together and say, ‘What’s our strategy? How are we going to respond?’”
Kerry was referring to goals and plans “to prevent violent ideologies from taking hold, and how to prevent terrorist networks such as ISIL or Boko Haram or any group of other names from linking up with aggrieved groups elsewhere, and how to prevent them from thereby expanding their influence.”
While, both at the White House Summit and in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed on Wednesday, Kerry was focusing on long term plans and strategy “to overcome [the] enemy and triumph” on a “different battlefield…using “different weapons,” the U.S. military and their Iraqi counterparts were working on detailed, very short-term military battlefield plans using military weapons to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from ISIL.
It is not surprising that the U.S. and Iraq would want to recapture Mosul, an important city that fell into the hands of ISIL last summer representing a major victory for the terrorist group.
What is surprising — and has gotten Fox News’ knickers in a twist — is the announcement by the Pentagon (U.S. Central Command) of the plan, the timing and even units involved and numbers of troops.
“That is pretty amazing that that information’s out there,” retired Gen. Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff and a Fox News military analyst, said Friday.
A current and former military intelligence officer also told Fox News that the decision to publicly announce the plan was counterintuitive because it “telegraphs” the timing and number of units involved. The officers said it would allow Islamic State, also known as ISIS, or ISIL, to prepare for the battle by laying improvised explosive devices.
Both officers questioned whether political considerations on the part of the Obama administration factored into the decision to announce the offensive.
However, Keane suggests, according to Fox News, “there should be nothing surprising about the fact that Iraqi forces are looking to retake Mosul before Ramadan.”
Fox News adds:
“ISIS is not stupid,” [Keanes] said, adding that their fighters already know that Mosul is the key to any counteroffensive and have likely been preparing for weeks. “This is not something new to ISIS.”
However, Keane said the details about the force size and other elements were “surprising” to hear.
The “main attack force” that will try to retake the city will consist of five Iraqi army brigades, according to a CENTCOM official, who agreed to outline the battle plan for reporters on condition of anonymity. The rest of the force involved in the operation will include:
– Three Kurdish Peshmerga brigades that will help contain the Islamic State forces from the north of the city and isolate them from the west.
– A “Mosul fighting force” which will be comprised largely of police and tribal forces as well as a brigade of counterterrorism forces.
– A reserve force of three smaller brigades.
In total, approximately 20,000 to 25,000 Iraqi troops and associated forces will be involved in the fight, according to the official.
Here is Thursday’s DOD article by Defense Media Activity’s Nick Simeone in its entirety. You be the judge as to whether we are “telegraphing” our plans to the enemy.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2015 – Preparations are underway by coalition and Iraqi forces to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists, an operation that could begin as early as April and will require an Iraqi-led military force of at least 20,000 troops, a U.S. Central Command official said today.
The official, who briefed Pentagon reporters on background, said military planners would like to see the battle for Mosul begin in the April or May time frame, but said the timing will be dependent upon Iraqi and Kurdish forces being adequately prepared for the fight. Later than that, he said, the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the onset of hot weather in the region could complicate matters.
The official said discussion continues at the highest levels of the U.S. government over whether U.S. military advisors could be deployed to frontline battlefield positions to assist Iraqi and Kurdish fighters.
The fight to retake Mosul would be the biggest battle since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve, which began with U.S. and coalition airstrikes on ISIL targets last August, after the terrorist group swept into Iraq from neighboring Syria. ISIL seized wide swaths of territory, executing non-believers as well as hostages and members of minority groups, all in an effort to establish a caliphate across the Iraqi-Syria border.
U.S. and coalition forces have been working to train thousands of Iraqi fighters to reclaim territory ahead of the battle for Mosul, the official said. Efforts are also underway to train moderate opposition fighters in Syria.
Anti-ISIL Campaign Succeeding
While there have been setbacks, the Centcom official said the coalition military campaign has succeeded in putting ISIL on the defensive, with the terrorist group losing territory in Iraq as well as the ability to govern and adequately regenerate forces.
“There is no organization in the world that can suffer those kinds of casualties and not have a tremendous impact on their ability to achieve their long-term aims,” the official said.
Iraqi forces have retaken at least 700 square kilometers of territory, according to the official, who said the military campaign against ISIL is going well but it will take time to defeat the terrorists.
“Mosul will not be easy,” he said. “It’s going to be a difficult fight.”
Lead image: Courtesy Institute for the Study of War
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.