The Iraqi campaign to retake Mosul could not only be a turning point in the fight against ISIS, but also a crucial test of the Obama administration’s wider counterterrorism strategy. The New York Times explains:
As Iraqi forces launch their long-awaited campaign to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State, President Obama’s doctrine of aiding other countries militarily rather than leading every fight is facing its greatest test yet. […]
On Monday, in keeping with the president’s insistence that the Iraqis take the lead, the White House said that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was “calling the shots.” But the reality is that roughly half of the 5,000 American troops now in Iraq are likely to be involved in the operation, which could eventually require 30,000 Iraqi and Kurdish troops. […]
Mosul is the largest example of a counterterrorism model that the Obama administration has put in place from Afghanistan to Libya. In Somalia, Special Forces troops are training Somali and other African troops to combat the militants of the Shabab. In Syria, about 300 Special Forces troops are aiding Syrian Kurdish and Arab militias with training and air support in the battle against the Islamic State.
As the Times notes, the administration’s counterterrorism doctrine aims to spread military responsibilities to regional partners rather than having the United States act alone. Accordingly, much of the U.S. involvement in the Mosul campaign will happen far behind the front lines: from the Special Operations commandos advising Iraqi and Kurdish troops via radio, to the American intelligence analysts at Iraqi headquarters, to the forward air controllers capable of ordering airstrikes against ISIS targets.
For all the gloom and doom about the supposed decline of the U.S., it is worth noting that what’s happening in Mosul reflects a significant advance in U.S. capabilities specifically. The U.S. military has learned to share the intel and analysis from drones and other sources in real time with allies, equipping and training those allies with the precision weapons and other instruments of power that can convert information dominance into concrete gains on the ground.
This capability is helping the Iraqi Army, stunned and demoralized in its first clashes with ISIS, regain control of its fortunes and its country, but the implications go far beyond Iraq. The U.S. now has new capabilities to strengthen allied forces so that a much smaller U.S. footprint can accomplish missions that once would have required massive intervention. In an age of proliferating terror networks, this is very good news.