When the President said he would “degrade and destroy” ISIS, the American people may not have had this in mind. The New York Times has an extensive report today on the military’s plan to rollback ISIS that calls for long term U.S. military involvement in a campaign that won’t even begin until sometime next spring:
Iraqi security forces, backed by American-led air power and hundreds of advisers, are planning to mount a major spring offensive against Islamic State fighters who have poured into the country from Syria, a campaign that is likely to face an array of logistical and political challenges. […]As the push to train Iraq’s military gathers momentum, the American footprint is likely to expand from Baghdad and Erbil to additional outposts, including Al Asad Air Base in Iraq’s embattled Anbar Province in the west, and possibly Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad. […]
The Iraqi military has been active in recent weeks, but these operations have taken a toll on its forces. United States officials say that the initial force they are planning to advise consists of only nine Iraqi brigades and three similar Kurdish pesh merga units — roughly 24,000 troops.
The counterattack plan calls for at least doubling that force by adding three divisions, each of which could range from 8,000 to 12,000 troops.
Normally it would be surprising to see so much military planning information released to the press, down to the number of troops to be deployed, the rough timeline of the offensive, and planned bases of operations. But following a week when the President’s national security team took quite a beating for their apparent ineptitude, they apparently decided the best course of action would be to leak details of their Iraq strategy in order to demonstrate that there is, in fact, an Iraq strategy.Nonetheless, certain key questions remain unanswered. One important aspect of the plan calls for national guard units to be created at the provincial level, thus allowing re-captured Sunni provinces to have some degree of autonomy in their self defense. Yet the lack of political leadership in Baghdad seems to be getting in the way: “the Iraqi Parliament has yet to enact legislation to establish the brigades, which would still need to be trained and equipped.” Likewise, what to do with the Shi’a militias remains a significant point of difference between the Obama Administration and the Iraqi government:
Iraq’s Shiite militias, some of which have been supported by Iran, pose another obstacle. Antony J. Blinken, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said last week that it was important that the Shiite militias be withdrawn, disband or have their members integrated into Iraq’s security forces.
But Fuad Masum, the Iraqi president, has suggested that the militias could be needed until the Islamic State was thoroughly defeated.
In addition to their ties to Iran, some of these militias are reported to have carried out mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Iraq’s Sunnis. While disbanding them would be politically difficult, integrating them into the regular army could antagonize the Sunnis.
Given the problems that need to be overcome, the military is planning for the long term. As the NYT quotes General Odierno at the end of the piece: “This is not going to happen in three weeks, a month, two months […] It’s a three- to four-year effort.” Once again, it’s clear that the President has over-promised and under-delivered on this planned “degradation.”