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The Future War on Terror
Mosul Battle Puts U.S. Burden-Sharing To The Test

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.

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  • johngbarker

    I wonder if this strategy would work with our European allies?

  • Andrew Allison

    “Mosul is the largest example of a counterterrorism model that the Obama administration has put in place from Afghanistan to Libya.” and we know how those worked out!

  • Ed Friedman

    Training such “allies” in advanced military capabilities…what could go wrong?

    • JR

      The idea that Arabs can have a modern functional army is as ridiculous as Arabs having a modern functional state. No amount of training can achieve that…

      • Tom

        It’s not completely ridiculous. It just might have to have premodern elements of form in order to have modern functionality.

        • JR

          I didn’t think of that. Good point.

  • Anthony

    “The fight to liberate Mosul has begun. In fact, it began with a new round of U.S.-led air strikes before the Iraqi announcement that the various elements of Iraqi ground forces were ready to engage. It will be one of the most critical elements of the U.S. military effort to defeat terrorism and violent Islamist extremism, as well as help determine the success of future U.S. efforts….” (Anthony Cordesman)

  • f1b0nacc1

    One wonders, of course, as to what happens when our adversaries (the real ones, the near-peers like Russia or China) adopt the same techniques to use against us…

    • Tom

      It’ll go as well for them as it has for us. Probably less well.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Possibly so, but then again we may find that ‘less well than it works for us’ might be more than enough to massively complicate our issues..
        Consider what has happened in Syria, where all of the great and good (including our esteemed host) informed us that Assad would certainly collapse ‘any day now’. The Russians and Iranians changed that very quickly with their intervention to the point that it now seems obvious that Assad will survive. This was done (in the case of the Russians) with a relatively small intervention, compared to what the US typically does overseas. If this sort of cost efficient intervention becomes practical (and while I agree we are likely to be better at it for the foreseeable future, even a less effective intervention could still be quite effective, if you get my meaning….) then even states like Iran (not to mention China or Russia) could become far more serious threats to our interests quite quickly.

        • Tom

          A fair point. However, I’m not entirely sure if these sorts of interventions are any different in terms of a broad approach than most of the Third World during the Cold War. Sure, there are more fancy bells and whistles, but this still requires a level of power-projection capability that we have and our opponents cannot match.
          Also, let’s face it, anyone they’d find to back in this way we’d tangle with anyway.
          But yes, we can’t afford to discount the possibility of this…complicating…our foreign policy in the future.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Pity there isn’t much we can do about it….the enabling technologies are widely distributed and easily understood, it is only a matter of realizing that you can use them in the first place. We demonstrated that in Afghanistan in 2001, the genie is out of the bottle.
            Regarding power-projection capabilities, we are actually undercutting our advantages with these new capabilities. In the ‘good old days’ (neither good nor particularly old) if you wanted to intervene anywhere, you needed a reasonably large logistical tail to move and support the troops and ancillary forces necessary. Now, the forces are much smaller, and even second-tier powers have the resources to do it. The ‘secret sauce’ remains the large and capable American special forces community, but even that is being eroded…

  • Angel Martin

    I hope everything goes well, but the history of poorly trained troops used in urban assault is not good. This “assault force” consists of a few thousand US and NATO troops with 30K Iraqi Army, and a few thousand Kurds plus Nineveh Sunni Militia, Iranians?, Shiite Militias? and who knows what.

    This force will face suicide attackers who have had two years to prepare. This is a preview attack outside the city.

    Perhaps others can weigh in but I see poorly trained tanks, improperly positioned, panicked firing of what looks like the wrong type of ammunition – and one tank likely destroyed.

    If I was on the ground infantry, I wouldn’t want those tanks backing me up. The minute they see a white pickup they are going to rabbit.

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