The Battle for Mosul: IS’ swansong or yet another shapeshifting ? (part 2)

By Patrick BAHZAD


6a00d8341c72e153ef01b7c851603e970b-800wiWe are now over two months into the battle for Mosul, and the initial optimism has definitely faded away. The palpable sense of doggedness about the urban combat taking place in the Eastern parts of the city, reflecting an atmosphere of almost trench-like warfare, contrasts sharply with the easy territorial gains achieved by Iraqi security forces in the first days of the offensive. Early announcements about the imminent liberation of the city and the final fall of the "Islamic State" now sound hollow and premature. The truth about Mosul – that much should have been clear from the outset – is that this will be a costly battle. Costly in time, costly in energy, equipment and planning, and most of all, costly in lives. Overall, a rather sobering and grim outlook. Happy new year…  

 It is winter in Northern Iraq: the weather is bad, the terrain is muddy, and around Mosul, the morale of the Iraqi forces is low. Weeks of house-to-house fighting have taken their toll, not just in terms of casualties. There had not been any doubts in the initial phase of the offensive, but uncertainties gradually crept into the Iraqi battle plan, so much so that a complete overhaul of the tactical and operational approach to taking back the city was recently announced.

Loopholes in the operational planning

The basic issue is that the Iraqis went in with one plan in mind, and no backup solution in case things did not go as expected. To be fair, looking at it from the safe distance of a D.C. based think tank, this was a "slam dunk" situation. The numerical advantage of the Iraqi "armada" assembled at the gates of Mosul was quite overwhelming and the first days and weeks, although bloodier than many observers imagine, looked encouraging.

In short, the idea was to isolate Mosul from the main LOCs to and from the city, cut of the centre from its immediate hinterland, disrupt IS' territorial continuity along the Tigris valley and thereby shape a battlefield that would be conducive to offensive operations towards the city, while at the same time containing IS attempts at disrupting the logistical trail up to Nineveh plains. The "shaping" phase, although first delayed and then extended a number times, worked reasonably well. Taking back Qayyarah airbase, with its nearby bridge over the Tigris, dealt a severe blow to the Jihadis and laid the groundwork for planning an assault onto the city.

In the media, this plan was discussed and praised at length in the weeks prior to the offensive, but a few critical points were dismissed all too quickly. Of course, one may already consider it an achievement to have regular Iraqi army units fight side by side with Kurdish Peshmergas, PMU militias (mostly Shia), Sunni tribes or Turkish proxies, but having such a large array of widely differing troops does not address the question of who is going into Mosul. 


The ICTS as the Spearhead of the offensive

Both the US-led Coalition and the Iraqi government had made it clear, for a number of reasons, that the only force to enter Mosul and physically confront IS fighters in a maze of small back streets of alleys would be the ICTS, the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service. That decision was very much in line with operational decisions taken in Ramadi and Fallujah, which were both retaken in 2015, mainly through the ICTS. The fact that Ramadi is still mostly a pile of rubble and that IS retreated from Fallujah without putting up much of a fight does not seem to have been considered as relevant at the time of the planning for Mosul.

What has happened on the ground is that the ICTS has been confronted with a much tougher defence than expected. The Iraqis didn't make large inroads into the centre of the city, as they had probably planned, and Coalition restrictions on CAS and artillery did not help. The "Islamic State" had had two years to prepare for the battle and they surely were busy getting on with it.

Two months into the fight and the ICTS now looks like a spent force already. The casualty rates are abysmal and the loss of skilled personnel (with their years of experience) already is irreplaceable. There has been a fallacy at work here and that bluff has now been called. True, there were around 80 000 men laying siege to Mosul, against a "garrison" of 5 000 to 8 000 IS fighters. But that advantage looks more and more like a deceitful appearance, as not all of those 80 000 are actually fighting the enemy.

The front-lines of the battle are almost exclusively ICTS territory, and for good reason. The occasional engagement of regular army units (like the 9th division for example) proved a devastating experience, not to be repeated unless absolutely necessary. What we are witnessing is actually known as the "Cannae syndrome": a huge fighting force on paper, significantly outnumbering its enemy, but only a small part of it doing the heavy lifting and paying the price in the friction area of Mosul's Eastern neighbourhoods.

 The new plan

Numbers and statistics about the Iraqi casualties were published by the UN, but heavily criticized by Iraqi government officials for their lack of accuracy. Be that as it may, the same methodology is being applied in other places, and has never been called into question. Anyway, when you have got 30% of your fighting men either KIA or wounded, you know something is going seriously wrong. The problem for the Iraqis is that rotating other units into the battle involves huge risks. Involving Shia PMUs would definitely be the nightmare scenario everybody wants to avoid.

We are now being told a new battle is going to be implemented in order to achieve the expected outcome. This plan means sending in more Western SOF into the city (an option initially considered "out of the question"), moving US and French artillery closer to Mosul (to achieve better accuracy) and increasing the number of precise airstrikes on specific targets. It will also involve rotating Iraqi units and improving coordination between them.

For now, it seems the "Rapid Response Division" is the first large unit being thrown into the battle inside Mosul, in addition to ICTS. The idea will be to identify and destroy IS key defensive positions inside the city, as well as their command centres, and quickly move into those areas, before the enemy can reorganise. Will those measures be enough tough to gain momentum and get the job done ?

Looking at Aleppo as the only point of possible comparison, it is doubtful that Mosul will be taken in the next couple of months. True, the city is surrounded and IS will not be able to move in reinforcements. But they probably did not count on that either. By now, they will have made preparations to sustain a long siege. Mosul has likely been turned into a "tunnel city" and it will be a tough challenge clearing that giant Swiss cheese …

Undoubtedly, IS' positions and command centres will have been buried deep underground, in the immediate vicinity of hospitals, schools and bakeries. Complex defensive systems (complex not meaning high tech in this instance) will also have been put into place, including the obvious SVBIEDs, but also various booby traps, IEDs and mines, as well as concealed firing positions (also for mortars and other artillery), manmade obstacles and ambush areas. Tunnel networks will allow IS to move fighters and equipment without being spotted, or stage small attacks in the rear if the attacking force. They are a crafty bunch, that much should be known.

How that kind of defences are going to be overcome, with hundreds of thousands of civilians present, that is where our commitment to avoiding the Russian style approach to Aleppo will truly be tested. Getting key targets out of the way, without resorting to similar tactics, will definitely be a daunting task. Adn there aren't that many options at hand to solve this problem. The humanitarian dimension in particular will prove to be a crucial one.

The Civilian Conundrum

Unlike Eastern Aleppo, parts of which were basically an empty shell, Mosul has a large civilian population. How we are going to avoid significant casualties among these people, when IS is literally embedded in their midst, is a mystery to me. The weeks to come should be telling in that regard. Being overly optimistic again would probably be a mistake.

It was the Iraqi government's decision not to prepare for the evacuation of Mosul's population, counting on quick advances into the city to avoid a large exodus. The Iraqis are now stuck with a situation where up to 1.2 million people are still holed up in their houses and basements and are being used as human shields by IS. Mind you, it could be worse. NGOs and the UN have made preparations to shelter some 120 000 people, if need be. So far, only 50 000 civilians have been taken charge of. But imagine the "Islamic State" herding some of the minority groups out of the city, and you got a humanitarian disaster on your hands.

Lots has been said about "resistance" groups inside Mosul. There are obviously individuals and even small groups, possibly coached by Iraqi Intel inside Mosul, but any idea of a popular uprising against IS should be dismissed. It will not happen. First of all, let us remember that there was almost no attempt at resisting IS' push into Mosul in 2014. The "Islamic State" has enemies inside Mosul, that much is clear, but it also has a reasonably large base of local supporters and fighters. The IS garrison of Mosul is not made up entirely of foreigners, far from it. This is not Fallujah 2004 …

Historically, ever since the insurgency of 1959, which ended in a bloodbath, the Maslawis have developed a sense of "laisser faire", avoiding to get involved in government matters, and to the winner the spoils. Expecting them to rise up against IS is basically a pipedream, especially with Shia PMUs at the gates. It will be hard enough building the city again, let alone expecting its divided population to take part in the fight.

The way ahead

In August 2016, CENTCOM Commander, Gen. Votel, ventured so far as announcing the liberation of Mosul "by the end of the year [2016]". He probably had his reasons, but in hindsight, it doesn't take a military genius to figure out, this was a bit of an over-optimistic statement. Was is undeniable is that IS has a limited numbers of fighters inside Mosul and that once they are gone, one way or the other, the battle will basically be over. Other than that, there is little reason to be confident about the weeks and months to come. Most likely, things will get worse before they get any better …   

One should also be aware that the battle of Mosul is fought "behind enemy lines" by IS too, not just by the Coalition. Conventional operations on the periphery of territory currently held by IS are as much a possibility as raids against Iraqi government LOCs. And of course, the tempo of suicide operations against Baghdad, and possibly areas in the Shia heartland, might increase in order to force the Coalition to spread resources and manpower across Iraq, thereby weakening the Mosul front.

The way the battle is going to shape up will finally depend to a significant degree on our approach to CAS, airstrikes and artillery use. If the situation looks more and more deadlocked, chances are, we might ease up on the strict ROEs we decided to stick to up until now. In any case, the only thing that seems certain is that a lot more blood will be spilt before this battle is over.

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63 Responses to The Battle for Mosul: IS’ swansong or yet another shapeshifting ? (part 2)

  1. mike says:

    Good insight. Thanks.

  2. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg says:

    Maybe the ICTS forces should drop ‘barrel bombs’…? Seriously, if there are heavy civilian casualties, we will not hear much about it in the corporate media.

  3. Lyttenburgh says:

    Been watching Euronews* this morning. They were showing the results of the post New Year fighting in Mosul, with some Iraqi general claiming that “we now control most eastern city”. Somewhere else, and long time before, I’ve read that the government control “40% of Eastern Mosul”. Another source claimed “40 out of 56 city blocks in the Eastern Mosul”.
    I can’t help byt laugh at this blatant lies. The sad and painful truth looks more like this:
    Maybe my eyes are deceiving me, but this does not look like “40%” or “most” of the Eastern Mosul. Or are you going to tell me, dear Iraqi commanders, that in just a few days you SUDDENLY conquered enormous parts of the city?
    “Undoubtedly, IS’ positions and command centres will have been buried deep underground, in the immediate vicinity of hospitals, schools and bakeries. This is where our commitment to avoiding the Russian style approach to Aleppo will truly be tested, because getting those targets without resorting to a similar kind of tactics will definitely be a daunting task.”
    “The way the battle is going to shape up will finally depend to a significant degree on our approach to CAS, airstrikes and artillery use. If the situation looks more and more deadlocked, chances are, we might ease up on the strict ROEs we decided to stick to up until now. In any case, the only thing that seems certain is that a lot more blood will be split before this battle is over.”

    This is truly a crux of the problem – the ideology. And a potential PR disaster, that no amount of servile pressitides from the “Free and Independent Western Media” ™ could massage back into “okay” or even “meh, big deal”. Because “falling to Russia’s level” is not an option.
    *By now there is precious little of “Euro” in their news, to be frank.

  4. ISL says:

    thanks for describing what I have seen glimmers of in the news. According to Patrick Cockburn, some battalions in the Golden Division – Baghdad’s only effective military force – have taken 50% casualties. And all this while in the suburbs. Projection forward would presumably turn Golden Division useless in a couple of months, at which point, Iraq would either turn loose the Shia Militias or have no effective force to counter any significant problem including ISIS – the security services have a track record of fleeing even when they outnumber ISIS 20 to one. SST has emphasized many times that the creation of an effective fighting force is a very consuming (time and experience) process – have the neocons become so embedded that the pentagon no longer knows this?
    Is there some scenario where the Iragi govt actually becomes broken and unable to retake Mosul? I suppose Erdogan could easily stoke up some serious trouble. At this point Iraq appears not to have the ability to protect its borders. Meanwhile there are a lot of unemployed jihadi’s in Idlib who are either going to end up causing problems in Turkey, or become Baghdad’s problem….

  5. mike says:

    The attempted distractions have already started. Bomb blasts in Najaf, Samarra and Baghdad. A dozen women burned to death in a minivan in Sadr City, many more expected to die soon or live in agony from their burns.
    Why daesh thinks this is a winning strategy is beyond me. It will be their death knell in Iraq. I guess they are trying for a bigger prize: inciting an all-out Shiite-Sunni war.

  6. morongobill says:

    Re: the Cannae reference, it certainly appears so far that there isn’t a Hannibal anywhere to be found.

  7. Chris Chuba says:

    Regarding the stress of having the ICTS do all of the fighting and underutilizing the other troops, here is lesson 3 from Russia’s battle of Grozny …

    “The psychological impact of high intensity urban combat is so intense that you should maintain a large reserve that will allow you to rotate units in and out of combat. If you do this, you can preserve a unit for a fairly long time. If you don’t, once it gets used up, it can’t be rebuilt.”

    In Dec., Aleppo collapsed rather quickly, is it fair to attribute this to ruthless, indiscriminate bombing?
    I’m not a military guy, I defer to you and others, but I read the daily updates on both SouthFront and “Al Masdar News”. To me, it looked like the SAA and allies did a good job of keeping sustained pressure on the Al Qaeda defenses on multiple fronts until they just got fatigued and collapsed. It looked like effective use of ground troops in combination to whatever fire support they had.
    The SOHR put civilian deaths in Eastern Aleppo at 2,000 between July to Dec. This is high but not the ‘genocide’ that the MSM was claiming. I would not be surprised if these numbers are inflated by at least 2X (as were Western numbers on the number of civilians in Aleppo). I’m certain that hundreds died at Aleppo but I suspect that Mosul will have a higher death toll if that is ever tallied. However, the Iraqi forces will get a pass on it from the MSM.
    In short, I believe that the civilian death toll will end up being lower at Aleppo because of the skill displayed by the SAA while experimentation will drive them higher at Mosul. I read one account where it looked like the Iraqis are really quick on the trigger in calling in airstrikes, even when it is counter-productive.

  8. Tyler says:

    I was in Mosul in the winter of 05-06. It was nothing but rain, cold, and mud. I spent Christmas Day on top of an abandoned house based off “hot intel” that some donkey cart had MANPADS and was coming across.
    There were no MANPADS. There was no donkey. But in spite of the snivel gear there were a few frostbitten soldiers due to sleet and freezing rain.
    In other words this is bogged down, hard to maneuver terrain, and that’s just in the non paved parts. The city is, indeed, a total frickin warren. A few main routes of access, and then you have streets that narrow until they turn into pedestrian paths through residential neighborhoods.
    Its going to take an Aleppo style op to try and capture that city. Nothing less will, IMHO, power through the obstacles that are part and parcel of the city.
    Thanks as well for mentioning the joke of the “resistance”. For a while there I couldn’t go a week without some breathless article that sounded like a chain email your grandma would forward about DEADLY FEMALE KURDISH SNIPER LOOSE INSIDE MOSUL KILLING ISIS COMMANDERS. Yeah yeah yeah. More Red Sonya jerk off material.

  9. I don’t think it will be their “death knell”. Sadly. The next insurgency, is already taking shape, and events in Mosul are contributing to it.

  10. The battle of Aleppo was decided by several factors, some of them diplomatic (Russia-Turkey agreement of this summer, according to which RCE called back his proxies from Aleppo), others linked to PSYOPS (SAA and Russians creating an environment where civilians in East-Aleppo became more hostile to rebels), and finally others obviously related to systematic targeting of rebels infrastructure and CC posts. The catastrophic rebels counter-offensives probably depleted them of precious manpower as well. All of this laid the groundwork for the final assault which was multipronged.
    The collapse may have been quick but it took a lot of work getting there. That is usually the case in attritional battles, there is a breaking point after which things change very quickly. you just need to follow up once the wall starts to crumble. We on SST have been indicating for a while that such a breaking point would be reached in Aleppo.

  11. Tyler, sounds like you had a great time there … Fond memories no doubt ;-). More seriously, I think you are right about the way this battle will be won (or lost).
    An alternative way to increasing CAS, airstrikes and artillery use, would be to unleash the PMUs, and let IS Jihadis and Shia radicals slaughter each other. I wouldn’t mind too much, but I’m afraid civilians inside Mosul would pay a heavy blood price too.

  12. Poul says:

    UNitar has a map over the damage to residential areas of Aleppo.
    It’s clear that the areas with the main front lines from four years of fighting are the worst affected but else Aleppo does not look like Fallujah after 2004.

  13. Poul says:

    The PMU may move into Syria in order to stop any cross border attacks by IS. It would be a sensible policy with the Syrian government’s blessing but I doubt the US will give air support. Maybe Russia will take over?

  14. sillybill says:

    “this battle is very similar to Cannae.”
    I’m having a little trouble seeing the parallel with Cannae. If you just separate out the uneven casualty figures and the resultant political fallout then maybe…
    Cannae was a single battle, fought on an open plain, over in a single day, and was characterized by an unorthodox tactic (the double envelopment) by the invading force (Hannibal’s army), and the results shocked the entire Roman empire.
    Mosul is a slow slog, in complex urban terrain, with elements of siege warfare, using standard tactics, and unlike the Romans no one is particularly surprised that the Iraqi army is slowly getting ground down.

  15. Sillybill,
    When you’re quoting me to make a point, please be so kind as to use the correct quote. I didn’t say, this is very similar to Cannae.
    I wrote: “What we are witnessing is actually known as the “Cannae syndrome”: a huge fighting force on paper, but only a small fraction doing the heavy lifting and paying the price in the friction area of Mosul’s Eastern neighbourhoods”.
    Furthermore, don’t lecture me about about ancient or modern warfare, siege or otherwise. You’ll be doing yourself a favour.

  16. Green Zone Café says:

    I worry about those Golden Division guys. They were in a compound adjacent to mine, along with USSOF (USN and Army). Young guys, picked up the swagger and the swag of their American trainers. Had beers with some of them at a USO band party once.
    Watching them walk like American guys, it would be funny if you didn’t know the tragedy along with it.

  17. b says:

    There are signs that ISIS thinks it is loosing in Mosul.
    Twice in the last week did ISIS try to break out west towards Tal Afar but was stopped by Hashd forces sent there by al-Abadi against the U.S. will. Obama wanted ISIS to go to Syria to attack government forces in Deir Ezzor.
    Yesterdays ISIS bombing campaign in Baghdad (4 of 5 went off, 100+ dead) also points to an increasingly nervous ISIS.
    The Iraqi government needs to change tactics and rotate more unites in and out of Mosul. Those need more CAS too. According to the CentCom December numbers little if any CAS is provided in Mosul.
    As PB points out – The Saudis and Turks are already building the next “Sunni insurgency” in Iraq by financing and training various Anbar “tribes” to act against the government. The U.S. could certainly tell the Saudis to cease and desist but would not do that. Keeping Iraq under its control necessitates an ongoing insurgency even after ISIS. (Remember? Obama said himself he let ISIS grow to get rid of Maliki who would not allow the U.S. in …)

  18. They have been thrown into a meat grinder without the proper support to prevail in such a fight. Only thing one can hope for is that their sacrifice won’t be in vain. In any case, it will be a great loss to Iraqi CT capabilities.

  19. b,
    I would be very careful in drawing any conclusions from so-called IS attempts at breaking out of Mosul. Of course, there are signs they are losing, given they are losing ground, and men, obviously. That is not the key-point. They might lose 90% of their manpower and still achieve a significant victory, if they manage to get the Iraqi offensive to a standstill.
    Likewise, the uptake in bomb attacks against Baghdad (there were 8 or 9 yesterday with 125 dead), as well as raids (like in Samarra earlier on), or ops cutting of government LOCs, all that isn’t new and does not, as such, constitute evidence to suggest IS is about to fold in Mosul.

  20. sillybill says:

    I did no such thing. I replied to …said… with his quote “this battle is very similar to Cannae.”, which seemed to indicate the battle itself, not the syndrome you referred to. I was confused by this so I asked him for clarification, adding the historical points to illustrate my confusion. I guess I could have worded it better.
    I neglected to add his name to my reply and improperly assumed the nesting of the reply would make it obvious. Sorry about that.
    I would never presume to lecture an old soldier about warfare.

  21. Vic says:

    Once again Obama has been given terrible advice from his national security advisors (Susan Rice, Kerry and Samantha Powers) in calling Russian strikes in Aleppo “war crimes”. He now needs to conduct the same types of strikes in Mosul or the offensive there stall out.
    His national security advisors never could think a move or two ahead of the bad guys. They merely reacted without considering what the other side would do ahead of time.
    Built up urban areas turn ROEs protecting civilians on its head. The regular options to using fires, like maneuver, deception , etc; don’t exist in urban areas. It turns out that you either destroy the enemy almost using human wave attacks, or you blast an attack axis through the enemy using fires. Soldiers pay the butchers bill or civilians do.
    I believe (but do not know) that speeding things up and using overwhelming amount of fire power actually results in lower levels of civilian and military losses because it shortens the time of the battle/campaign/war.
    Any old military science/history geeks know if the old Operations Research Office (ORO) or Col (ret) Dupuy of the Historical Evaluation Research Office (HERO) crunched the numbers correlating amount of fire power with over all civilian losses in urban combat?

  22. Jeff says:

    I understood PMU is active in the Niniveh area with an explicit demand NOT to have any US air cover, to avoid ‘friendly fire’ incidents.
    So they could go to Syria as well.

  23. turcopolier says:

    Do you credit the reporting that jihadis in Idlib City are tearing the city up and transporting anything salable toward Hatay? pl

  24. turcopolier says:

    Have seen this before, the locals coming to believe that they ARE like the men who trained them. The butcher’s bill is always high in such situations. Clausewitz was once again right in writing that war itself is the best teacher. He did not mention how expensive the tuition may be. pl

  25. mike says:

    PB –
    Regarding the bombing in Sadr City:
    Late last month, Iraqi authorities removed some security checkpoints in Baghdad in a bid to ease traffic for the capital’s 6 million residents.
    Asaad Hashim, an owner of a mobile phone store near the bombing, blamed “the most ineffective security forces in the world” for failing to prevent the attack.
    They surely moved too fast in taking down those checkpoints last month.
    Interesting that the Baghdad bombings came just a few hours after Hollande and Le Drian arrived there. I assume they were not specific targets, but I think the press did mention his visit schedule back on Friday. So there may have been a point in picking that day, do you think?

  26. ISL says:

    With respect to rebellion folding under pressure, there is a very significant difference between Aleppo and Mosul – the flavor of the ocean the rebels are swimming in. In Mosul the large civilian population has the Shia to look forward to upon defeat, in Aleppo, they had the SAA, which has been a beacon of light relative to the very nasty sectarian nature of the conflict in Iraq – emphasis on relative. As you are already clearly noting, even victory would likely be pyrrhic with the war continuing in guerilla form.
    It was only two years ago that we almost witnessed the complete collapse of the Iraqi State. I somehow doubt it has recovered much since, particularly on austerity and $45 bbl oil, and now its only effective military force is being ground into hamburger.
    So if we imagine Trump makes good on his promise to open the tap on US oil, which then drops to $35 bbl. Well, absent US boots, what is to prevent Iraq from starting to fly apart?

  27. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I credit it; that is what they or their brethren did in Aleppo; looted the factories and the warehouses – that was what they stood for; all the fine ideals of the Syrian Revolution or of Islam was boiled down, refined, and reduced to a single thing: “Loot”.
    And they were not even socialists.

  28. Serge says:

    “is undeniable is that IS has a limited numbers of fighters inside Mosul ”
    Unless they manage to recruit from the 750K-1.25 million civilians still in mosul proper in order to constantly replenish losses, which by many reports they have(in droves).IMO they are more likely to run out of ammo than bodies.
    The Golden Division commander also said 2 weeks ago in an interview with rudaw that reinforcements are still getting through from syria
    “No, not all the routes are closed. The routes between Iraq and Syria are open, enabling them to travel. [The area] is big. You need more than 10 divisions to recapture it. According to our information, they have received new reinforcements from Syria.”

  29. Croesus says:

    Do the Iraqis have a “Russia” acting with them, as was the case for Syria in Aleppo? Does Iran have forces in Mosul?

  30. VietnamVet says:

    Thanks again for keeping us updated. I had withdrawal symptoms when SST was off line earlier today. January 20th and the inauguration briefings are critical. After this date will the Islamic State be enemy #1? Or, will Donald Trump be neutered and the endless war continue forever? If I am interpreting this correctly, seizing Mosul will require more than the current makeshift Western, Iraqi, Quds and Kurd offensive forces. An alliance with NATO, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Russia is necessary to win the war against the Islamic State by seizing Raqqa and Mosul and imposing peace on the Middle East. Israel and the Gulf Monarchies would have to go stuff it.

  31. ISL says:

    Well, at least there are the militia proxies. However, although I am sure Iranian RG contributed greatly to morale of the SAA and logistics, I have not read anywhere they were decisive. Perhaps I missed that.
    Still, per the colonel’s comment above, the Shia militia are probably shadows of the Iranian RG – fine for colonial actions against the local citizenry, but against a determined, hardened, armed foe in urban combat?
    Additionally, its been a decade since they “studied the art of war” in practice – a decade in which they have been learning the art of patronage and ghost soldiers – they are now part of the Iraqi budget! IMO Erdogan’s actions once again are critical in his ability to be the spoiler (not against Russia).

  32. Green Zone Café says:

    Patrick, Col. Lang,
    Some may be saved by a big joint US/Russia/others campaign against ISIS. I could see Trump/Mattis/Flynn putting a lot of troops in for a couple of months, then leaving “the occupation” to the Golden Division and regular army Iraqis or parties unknown.

  33. b says:

    Can’t say from my sources.
    But as Babak notes it would be totally in line with earlier behavior. Aleppo industrial city was looted from the biggest machines down to the last cables and sold off to Turkish dealers and shops.

  34. CZC,
    I don’t think we’ll see the US (and the West) take over the Mosul operation. In the current situation, it would probably take about 30k+ troops, whith a casualty rate of 2-3% (that’s already 1 000 men). Personally, I wouldn’t do it. It’s an Iraqi city, it’s their fight first and foremost. Besides, I don’t think stepping in would be necessary. Did the Russians send in Russian Guard divisions into Aleppo ? No, they provided a consistent air support as well as plenty of firepower.
    We are stuck with policy requirements (“don’t turn Mosul into Aleppo”) that dictate and hamper the conduct of a military assault on a large urban center. Fighting in such an environment with one hand tied behind your back will never be easy.
    The Golden Division in its current form is gone and it was the Iraqis’ best unit. Shit happens …

  35. morongobill,
    You mean on our side or the head choppers’ ?

  36. For now, there is a huge battle to be fought in Mosul, and Baghdad as well as other Shia areas are exposed to terror attacks. I don’t think any significant amount of PMU manpower will move into Syria any time soon.

  37. Fair enough,
    hadn’t spotted your reply was directed at the nameless guy, who is hereby advised to find a name pretty soon if he wants to carry on posting.
    Guess what he meant was that a victory over ISIS in Mosul, with a heavy death toll on our side, would be a “Pyhrric” victory, which is different indeed, you’re right.

  38. ISL,
    Iraq was definitely broken in 2003 and there’s nothing we can do currently to change that. Putting US boots on the ground in large numbers would probably just reunite current enemies (the Shia PMUs hate us as well, make no mistake), until we’re gone again.
    You can’t break up countries like that and do a few years of “nation building” to put them back together. Not after what has happened in Iraq since 2003.

  39. There are certainly IRGC advisors embedded with PMU militias around Mosul.

  40. Vic,
    I’m not sure there is a “one size fits all” equation to adequately correlate firepower with loss of civilian life. Lots of elements have to be factored in. The only equation that might be useful is the amound of firepower and manpower necessary (on paper) to fight urban warfare against an entrenched and determined enemy. And that equation needs to weigh in the quality of the troops you got. Again, warfare can’t be reduced to percentages. The human factor is the decisive one.

  41. Mike,
    Yes, I’m pretty sure they wanted to send a message both to the Iraqi government and the French president.

  42. Serge,
    Yes, they might mobilize Mosul’s youth (I doubt it), but they could. It would still be a limited pool of ppl to pick from and they would not last long in battle, assuming they did not run over to the Iraqis.
    Reinforcements reached Mosul for a period, that is true. Not anymore, or if so, in very small numbers. And even if there was a way in, the turnover rate would not replace the casualties. Would only mean IS pouring in and losing more resources in the end. They’re not going to do that, unless they see a real chance of bringing the whole thing to a standstill. Their plan is not based on replenishing regularly their garrison.

  43. VV,
    I don’t think taking back Mosul would require the Great Alliance you mentioning. Did Aleppo require such an alliance ? No.
    However, there is indeed a difference between prevailing in Mosul and putting IS out of business. That goal does require an overall and inclusive strategy, and it’s not even assured to achieve its aims then !

  44. Chris Chuba says:

    ISIS the T2000’s
    It’s fair to say that ISIS consistently fights better than any of the other rebel groups and frequently outfights army units.
    So how did this breed of Jihadi T2000’s come about, does it all go back to the infusion of Saddam’s ex-military leaders.
    That with ISIS they started out as Al Qaeda stocked with people willing to fight to the death (very motivated) and then you add in a core of professional military motivated for revenge and status and you get the Uruk-hai. That the leadership of ISIS was smart enough to preserve their ex-Iraqi military leaders and only use the new recruits as cannon fodder.
    If this explains it then the disbanding of Saddam’s military was the greatest blunder in creating modern Jihad. Obama’s mistake of withdrawing 6,000 troops (the Republican’s favorite trope) is like complaining about a gust of wind after building a house of cards.

  45. TomV says:

    Andrew Cockburn’s article “There Is Nothing the Turkish Government Can Do to Stop Isis” ( brings to mind William Lind’s concept of “4th Generation Warfare” In short why are we spending so much money on nation to nation warfare (e.g. nine new ships for the navy this year) when the real problem is what we see in Turkey, Europe, etc.
    I know that in the past you have been critical of Lind. But, that was before this ‘Terrorist’ thing got really going. I would what are your current thoughts?

  46. turcopolier says:

    PB et al
    Yes, the “long pole in the tent” at Mosul is the poor quality of the troops. The US has now tried what? three times? to re-build Iraqi forces to replace the army we disbanded? Amusingly I see references here to the supposed leadership cadres derived from the army we disbanded. At the time of the disbanding we Americans spoke about them as dregs who should be left to starve with their families in the streets. Rather than starve they joined the rebellion against us. It seems to me that those men would be rather elderly by now. What would US/French/British casualties be at Mosul if we took over? They would be substantial. pl

  47. turcopolier says:

    Lind is a fraud who sold the notion of generations of warfare to ignorant generals who felt bad because they didn’t know anything about revolutionary/guerrilla warfare. They didn’t know anything about this because they never studied history. History is the basic knowledge base of the military profession but if you are ant-intellectual and prefer to spend your time kissing ass to get promoted that you end up understanding nothing about a war that you are committed to by political authority. At the beginning of the occupation of Iraq senior Army and USMC leadership could not even formulate in their minds the notion of a population in arms waging guerrilla war against them. Their pitiful response to this was to insist that the resistance war was rear area security operations conducted in cities. That idea was in their manuals. So, at first they labelled the resistance as “urban warfare.” IOW they understood nothing of the situation they were in. Lind’s genius was to tell them that they were not to be blamed for their ignorance because what they were experiencing was a new form of warfare, something that they could not be expected to understand. This, of course, is nonsense. There is nothing new about a levee en masse that results in partisan, i.e., guerrilla warfare against an occupier. History is full of such developments, but they knew no history. To return to your question – you think that what is happening in Syria and at Mosul is Lind’s 4th Generation Warfare? It looks like plain old war to me. Oh yes – you think terrorism is something new! My god! pl

  48. TomV says:

    Thank you for your usual cogent response. However, while I don’t think that ‘conventional’ war is a thing of the past as you point out in Iraq and Syria; still, if I may, you did not address Cockburn’s contention “There is nothing the Turkish government can do to Stop Isis”. If Turkey and NATO doubled their conventional forces, would that stop ISIS attacks on their respective homelands?

  49. turcopolier says:

    Terrorism is a police, SWAT and intelligence problem. It is not “war.” Conventional forces are irrelevant to this problem unless the terrorist insurgents capture something significant and try to hold it. pl

  50. Pat Lang,
    (signed) A history major

  51. PL,
    Agreed. It would not be a cake walk, to quote a former US SecDef ! Additionally, urban environments are more favourable to a defensive strategy and tend to even out technological and quality gaps among forces. In other words, urban warfare requires the attacking force to master fire and manoeuver to a degree that is currently out of reach for ISF.
    As for the Baathist element in ISIS (mentioned by CC), it certainly is present and it has been mixed with other influences. ISIS is a conglomerate, it’s also a survivalist organisation, that managed to adapt and prevail in almost 15 years of war against the US and the Iraqi forces. It was almost detroyed at one point, but those who survived learnt their lessons. As PL mentioned recently, war itself is the best teacher.

  52. PL and TomV,
    4GW is one more label that sounds and looks fancy but doesn’t add anything new basically. PL is right, it is a fraud. No need to come up with yet another name tag to describe something that has existed in slight variations for centuries.
    Small war, guerilla war, Revolutionary warfare, Low intensity conflict, Counter-insurgency, 4GW, hybrid warfare, grey wars and whatever else … just names. If anything, stick to those who describe principles, not situations: the nature and principles of war are immutable, the situation/environment may change.

  53. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The large items that could not be transported were broken into smaller pieces and sold as scrap in Turkey.
    In Iraq, for a while, they were selling copper across the border in Iran – from Iraq’s electric grid.

  54. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Since the end of the Cold War, there have been many countries that have disintegrated: Zaire (Congo), Somalia, Afghanistan, Liberia…
    Iraq is not even the latest; Yemen and South Sudan come to mind.
    I think the sectarian genie has been led out of the bottle and it could consume, in its wake, those weak post-colonial states that are still in the process of congealing – such as India and Pakistan. For if the Sunni Jihadists can wage war among Arabs, they could do so among Punjabis in Pakistan, and among Indians of all sects and religions in India.

  55. Babak Makkinejad says:

    “what is to prevent Iraq from starting to fly apart?”
    Money, Howza, Iran, Turkey.
    Iraqis are focused like a hawk on the price of oil and that is what would be used to keep the country together. When the price was high – $100 or more- Kurds could entertain being another Kuwait on their own dime – so to speak – at $35 per barrel that dream is dead.
    The Shia Doctors of Religion organized in Najaf will fight the break-up of Iraq. They will not let this historical opportunity for Shia ascendancy in Iraq – after so many centuries – to be lost.
    Iran will also stand-by her allies in Iraq as well as threaten and cajole Kurds to lowers their “Independence” pretensions.
    Turkey will join Iran in the effort to prevent the emergence of an independent country in Iaqi Kurdistan. In my opinion, they will invade and make sure any such declaration of independence by Kurds of Iraq is still-born.

  56. mike says:

    If Tukey doubled its conventional forces, it would use them to finish off its genocide of Kurds in Southeast Turkey. Or perhaps, if they feel skittish enough then to double down on bombing and shelling the Kurdish Cantons in northern Syria.

  57. mike says:

    Unconfirmed report that the Iraqi army has sent large reinforcements to Haditha in preparation for the storming of Anah and Rawah just NW of Qadisiyah Lake. Those towns are also on the road to Qaim on the Iraq/Syria border.
    If true, would it be a 2nd offensive front? Or a feint towards Qaim? Or perhaps a blooding of green troops that will soon go to Mosul?

  58. Will2.718 says:

    can’t ever resist commenting on Cannae, even tho off-topic. Patrick nails it that the essence was “only a small fraction doing the heavy lifting.” The Romans became so constricted and hemmed in that only the ones on the outside of their besieged ring could fight and they were readily slaughtered. And then the ring would close tighter. The ones on the center of the ring were powerless to help. The key to this situation of the noose tightening was Hannibal’s Numidian cavalry which chased off the Roman cavalry and facilitated the envelopment along with his weak center.
    At the Battle of Zama, the Numidians had switched sides. A little known fact, untrained horses would bolt in fear at the strange smell of elephants, not that there were any at Cannae. At Zama, the Roman maniples simply sidestepped and avoided them.

  59. Poul says:

    I was thinking in the longer run when IS has been suppressed in Iraq.
    A statement by Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki is along those lines.

  60. ISL says:

    Sounds like sunni Iraq are screwed, to be colloquial, no matter what happens.
    Still, I could see the Kurds shooting themselves in the foot, so to speak. And Iran could simply absorb under a protectorate Shia-Iraq which is where most of the oil is as in the Crimea, but you are correct, Turkey would invade and take up the mantle of uniting all Iraqi’s in opposition to prevent Kurdish independence – as the US did.

  61. mike says:

    Agence France-Presse is now reporting on the new offensive in western Anbar.
    Key takeaways are: “A military operation has begun in the western areas of Anbar (province) to liberate them from Daesh,” said Lieutenant General Qassem Mohammedi, head of Jazeera Operations Command, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
    He said the operation was led by the army’s 7th division, police, and fighters from local tribes that have opposed the jihadists, with aerial backing from the coalition.
    The main targets of the operation are Aanah, Rawa and Al-Qaim, the westernmost Iraqi towns along the Euphrates Valley.

  62. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I do not think so, eventually the Arabs – Shia and Sunni – will come to some sort of agreement. Just look at Lebanon.

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