War against the Caliphate / ISIS

The army that will never be...
by Patrick Lang
Sic Semper Tyrannis, 2015-12-06

On the Farid Zakariya newsie today Susan Rice explained with some brevity and clarity that No Fly Zones/Sanctuary Areas in Syria are not favored by the BHO branch of the Borg because they are "resource intensive" and would require "tens if thousands of troops to defend them." Well, duh... I would bet some of my own money that it took a lot of time and many briefings by the JCS to persuade the herd of squirrels at the WH of those simple facts. Good! Someone managed to do that. One wonders if HC could be similarly persuaded.

An equally important element in the active fantasy life of the Obama Administration as well as most Republican and Democratic presidential aspirants is the notion of a regional ground combat force that would in their field of dreams go to Syria and Iraq and destroy the Islamic State. The truth is that such an army will never be.

  • The Gulfies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc.) are core supporters of Sunni jihadi groups in Syria and Iraq. They may have washed their hands of the IS specter but the reason for doing that is the arrival in the Gulf of the idea that the petty princes on the Gulf are inevitably seen by IS as a collective abomination to be destroyed as soon as conveniently possible.
  • Even if the Gulfie group decided to accede to Obamanite wishes for them to fight IS on the big chess board of north Arabia they are impotent to do so. Their collection of foreign built military equipment is one of the largest static displays of military materiel in history. They are poorly trained, under-manned and commanded by sycophants of the princely (to include SA) houses, men for whom their wages are all they live for. To top off the list of the defects of the armed forces of the Gulfies they lack "the stones" for real war. They can be killers, but not fighters. Look at the mess they have made of their aggression in Yemen. Look at it!
  • Egypt. The Egyptian military is a large money making enterprise that is built to control internal political activity in Egypt itself. They do that well but have neither the taste nor an inclination to go fight IS in northern Arabia.
  • Iran. They DO have "the stones," but we reject their participation.
  • Jordan. The country's small but effective armed forces are fully committed to blocking both internal and external threats to the kingdom. IMO King Abdullah is not going to risk Islamist revolt at home while his men are engaged in Syria or Iraq.
  • Turkey. Basically on the Islamists side.
  • Iraq. What will be on the Sunni Arab side already is. There are Sunni Arab units in the Iraqi Army. They are largely worthless as combat power. There are tribal forces that the central government thinks of as enemies and refuses to arm.

When you add this all together you find that the only Sunnis seriously fighting the Islamists (IS, Nusra, etc.) are Kurds and the Sunni Arab soldiers and militia fighting on the side of the government in Syria. They and their Russian, Hizbullah, IRGC and sectarian and ethnic militia allies are alone and will remain alone. pl

Reckless onslaught could aid ISIL, military warns
The cries for more robust military action against the Islamic State are growing louder.
But Pentagon leaders and government terrorism advisers worry that
escalation could also bolster terrorist ranks.

By Bryan Bender
Politico, 2015-12-07

Presidential candidates and hawkish members of Congress are stepping up their cries for more robust military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — but Pentagon leaders and government terrorism advisers caution that a reckless escalation of the war could help the group recruit disaffected Muslims around the world.

The quandary has heightened since last week’s deadly shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., which called attention to the danger posed by ISIL sympathizers who become self-radicalized to commit violence in the West. It’s one reason that the U.S. and its allies held back from bombing the Islamic State’s headquarters in the Syrian city of Raqqa, and why President Barack Obama warned on Sunday night that military overreach could lead to ISIL "using our presence to draw new recruits."

"If you’re killing 1,000 a month in strikes and they’re replacing them at 2,000 a month, that’s not good math," Army Brig. Gen. Michael Kurilla, the deputy director of special operations and counter-terrorism on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center in October.

"There are inherently conflicting considerations here," said Paul Pillar, who retired in 2005 as the top U.S. government intelligence analyst for the Near East and South Asia and is now a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Center for Security Studies. "Some form of military actions plays right into ISIL's hands. That has to be balanced with whatever positive happens from military force."

Those concerns aren’t quelling the tough talk in Congress and on the campaign trail following last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, which appear to have been coordinated by ISIL, as well as the California shootings, which investigators have blamed on a Muslim couple who the FBI says became "radicalized" by the Islamic State’s message.

“We will utterly destroy ISIS,” Republican White House hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said at a campaign rally over the weekend, using another acronym for the terror network that controls parts of Iraq and Syria and has enlisted followers in numerous other countries. “We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!”

In a recent campaign ad, GOP front-runner Donald Trump vowed to "quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS."

ISIL, in its own pronouncements and those of its sympathizers, has also sought to goad the United States into doing more militarily, saying Obama's unwillingness to send large numbers of ground troops demonstrated American weakness. The group has also made it a point of purposely operating in areas where they know civilians will be placed in grave risk from U.S. and allied air or drone strikes.

“This is a success for the Islamic State in creating a 'balance of terror' with the strongest military force in the world,” one self-described loyalist tweeted on Monday, according to Vocativ.com, which tracks jihadi communications over social media.

Another supporter mocked Obama, calling him a "crusader" who "is afraid of sending his dogs to fight the [Islamic] State.”

But it is the no-holds-barred pronouncements by Cruz and Trump that make many current and former government terrorism experts cringe.

The experts widely agree that dislodging ISIL from its sanctuary in Iraq and Syria is crucial to weakening the group's appeal in the region and beyond. But they feel deep anxiety about doing it the wrong way.

The Pentagon in recent weeks has been highly critical of the Russian approach to air strikes inside Syria, denouncing its blunt approach and seeming lack of concern about the consequences of killing large numbers of civilians.

"They are just using old-fashioned, mid-20th century technology and accuracy to sling lead around the battlefield," Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad, told reporters on Nov. 24.

Citing non-governmental organizations, Warren estimated "possibly upwards of 1,000 civilian casualties caused by the Russians."

Even some critics of the Obama administration's military restraint see dangers in letting the pendulum swing too far in the other direction.

Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who frequently advises the Pentagon, believes that the so-called rules of engagement designed to inhibit collateral damage from the U.S.-led air war that began in July 2014 "have been so tight they have made it impossible to make air power effective."

Nevertheless, he said in an interview: "If we go out and strike at a parade in a public area, air power is not a scalpel. Killing civilians is something you have to be very careful about. You can't just ignore these precautions." Cordesman laid out of some of his concerns in a recent paper titled "Paris, ISIS, and the Rush to 'War.'"

Pillar said some level of military force against the Islamic State can reduce its appeal to militants. "Checking the advance of ISIS on the ground and actually pushing it back in places — as has happened in Iraq this year — will degrade significantly the reputation in the eyes of potential recruits,” he said.

But he also said the targeting policies the U.S. employs as the air war picks up "become very important."

"You might hope to make a headline by recapturing a town, but if it is at the cost of high collateral damage that would stoke the anti-Western resentments, that helps a group like ISIL," he said.

Those concerns have most recently informed the military strategy aimed at damaging ISIL's revenue from illegal oil sales. Fears that destroying the supplies — and the supply chain — would cause undue harm to the civilian economy in Iraq and Syria weighed heavily on Obama administration officials. U.S.-led air strikes have recently become much more aggressive, however, striking hundreds of delivery trucks that move the black market energy supply.

"That is one area where a somewhat higher risk-taking approach is worthwhile," Pillar agreed. "But it doesn’t eliminate the drawbacks completely. Do you attack tanker trucks driven by poor schmucks just trying to make a living?"

Pillar also stressed that a key to a successful military campaign that minimizes the potential terrorist recruiting bonanza is the extent to which Arab allies are playing a prominent role. Cordesman agreed, saying, "The more that indigenous forces can be doing the dirty work and the less Western forces are doing, it the better."
Donald Trump calls for 'total and complete shutdown of Muslims' coming to U.S.

Such perceptions could be even more important in preventing ISIL from recruiting Muslims who are watching the destruction from thousands of miles away, as opposed to young Muslims living in the battle zone, said Craig Whiteside, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and veteran of the Iraq War who is now a terrorism researcher at the Naval War College in Monterey, Calif.

He said research suggests that the terror group's narrative that innocent Muslims are being targeted by the West can often more easily take hold among would-be sympathizers far from the conflict.

The ISIL "information campaign plays on the themes that the West is at war with Muslims," said Whiteside, who is working on a new anti-ISIL war gaming strategy for the Pentagon. "Someone in San Bernardino and watching this from afar, somehow that narrative often affects certain them more than somebody who is much closer."

A big test of whether the U.S. can navigate these dangers looms in ISIL-occupied Mosul, which is Iraq's second-largest city and a key element of the Islamic State's claim to be a caliphate.

"Part of their center of gravity is the Caliphate. That’s what’s driving the recruits," Kurilla told West Point's Combating Terrorism Center. He added: "If you can take that away from them and you break up the idea that they no longer have a Caliphate, that can start to break the recruiting. You have to challenge that ideology."

Yet even the most carefully calibrated military campaign — one that minimizes civilian casualties and gives the military coalition a Muslim face, both in the air and on the ground — could still pose new dangers, said J.M. Berger, a specialist in radical Islamic terror groups and a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Tens of thousands of the group's fighters could simply just relocate to sow terrorism in other countries, including possibly in the West.

"If ISIL is displaced from its state," he said, "there is a high risk of increased terrorism in the short term, and a risk we might need to go to Libya or Nigeria in the not-too-distant future if ISIL's center of gravity just moves to one of those locations."


Trump’s Mideast surge has Pentagon debating ‘mission creep’
By Bryan Bender
Politico, 2017-03-17

President Donald Trump’s pressure on the military to "demolish and destroy" the Islamic State is raising anxiety inside the Pentagon that the United States could end up in another open-ended ground war, according to current and former military officials.

The U.S. has quietly sent hundreds of additional troops to Iraq and Syria since Trump took office, and is considering dispatching thousands more to counter ISIS, fight militants in Yemen and stem a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan. But the deliberations are testing Trump’s promise to steer clear of foreign entanglements, and has his military commanders questioning whether they can maintain their meticulously drawn line between supporting local forces and leading the fight.

"How much more blood do we want to shed for Iraq?" asked one senior officer who recently returned from the war zone.

The escalating risk of U.S. casualties is shadowing the Pentagon’s internal strategy sessions, the officials said in interviews. Trump’s demand for a more aggressive strategy also raises concerns among commanders about whether they can accomplish the mission without turning U.S. troops into a substitute for local fighters, which until now have depended only on U.S. military advisers, special operations forces and air strikes.

"Some call this accelerating the campaign; some call it mission creep," said one military officer involved in the discussions who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Some lawmakers say the U.S. military role in the region is steadily expanding with little if any debate about the implications.

"What we see happening is the classic definition of mission creep," said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat and leading anti-war voice on Capitol Hill. "A few hundred here, a couple hundred there, a few more hundred here. You see our military footprint expanding ever more."


[T]he risks inherent in involving more troops in the fight — especially a Syrian civil war with a host of competing sides — is a primary consideration in current Pentagon planning...


Still, influential voices in Washington are calling for a greater U.S. military commitment.
The "U.S. must act quickly" and
"seize and secure a base of operations in southeastern Syria
in order to expand American freedom of action in the region,"
["American freedom of action in the region"?
Why does America need "freedom of action in the region"?
If anyone doesn't think the needs of Israel are what are driving this push,
they are either ignorant or deluding themselves.]

said a report issued Wednesday by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War,
hawkish think tanks that have advised U.S. military commanders in the region.
Since when do U.S. military commanders
take advice from civilian lobbying organizations
(since that is what the so-called "think tanks" really are)
rather than from their commander in chief?]

"The goal is to help form a new Syrian Sunni Arab partner,” the report said, adding that
“U.S actions must set the conditions necessary to prevent the reconstitution of ISIS and al Qaeda
and to resettle refugees eventually.”

The report effectively calls on Trump to take ownership of the war against ISIS. For now, though, Trump is simply "supersizing the Obama strategy," said one of the report's main authors, Frederick Kagan.

"We have very little leverage on the ground and probably a limited ability to understand what is going on if we are not there," Kagan said in an interview. "If we are serious about this we must have some presence."

He similarly argued that additional American troops are needed in Afghanistan, where the top U.S. commander, Gen. John Nicholson, told Congress last month that "we have a shortfall of a few thousand."

"It is not a stalemate; we are losing," Kagan said. "How do we help the Afghans to stop losing?"

But current and former military officials said debate rages among leaders in the Pentagon and commanders in the field about what constitutes too much U.S. involvement, especially in Syria.

"The fundamental question is this: How do you lead the fight without leading?" asked retired Army Lt. Gen. Mick Bednarek, who was the top U.S. officer in Baghdad until 2015 and still advises the Pentagon.

"We made the decision long ago in Iraq while I was there that this is not our fight," added Bednarek, who witnessed ISIS taking control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014. "It is a fine line. How do we get as close to the front as we can to bolster up our coalition partners without leading as we help assist, advise and support them in their effort?"