Posted: June 9, 2015 Filed under: Diplomacy, Think Tank, War Room, White House | Tags: Al Anbar Governorate, Baghdad, Humvee, Iran, Iraq, Iraqi Army, Islamic state, Mosul, Ramadi, United States
Figuring out that you are pursuing a losing strategy is more difficult than outsiders might believe.
Peter D. Feaver writes: President Obama is under fire for explaining the lack of progress in the fight against the Islamic State on the fact that he does not “yet have a complete strategy.” This apparently candid concession echoes the one he made 10 months ago when he acknowledged that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to confront the Islamic State.
“The problem with the strategy is that it is not working, in the sense of advancing U.S. interests in the region and achieving the stated objectives.”
Critics are understandably lambasting the president for the apparent dilatoriness, and I have some sympathy for the critique. If you begin the clock with President Obama’s remarkable January 2014 dismissal of the Islamic State as a “jayvee threat” — something the White House still pretends the president did not say, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — and trace the president’s response to the growing Islamic State threat, the charge of delinquency is almost impossible to deny.
“In the absence of U.S. leadership, local partners did not step up quickly enough to stop the Islamic State when the threat could be easily contained. Now rolling back the group’s advances requires more punch than the locals can deliver without a substantial increase in American commitment.”
Yet, in this instance, I think the critics and the president are both wrong. The problem is not an absence of strategy, it is that the strategy that does exist is failing and the administration is not yet willing to admit that fact.
[Read the full text here, at Foreign Policy]
The strategy is pretty self-evident: U.S. forces are operating under stringent self-imposed limitations so as to incentivize local partners (the Iraqi government, Sunni tribes, and moderate rebels in Syria) to do more. The United States is prepared perhaps to do a bit more if local actors do a lot more, but if local actors do not step up, the United States is not prepared to do more. On the contrary, the United States is prepared to accept hitherto “unacceptable” setbacks — the fall of Mosul, the fall of Ramadi, the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, the regional expansion of Iranian-backed terrorist organizations and militias, and on and on — rather than intervene more decisively.
“This is a recognizable strategy. There is even a catchy name for it: leading from behind.”
The problem with the strategy is that it is not working, in the sense of advancing U.S. interests in the region and achieving the stated objectives (“destroy and degrade ISIL”). In the absence of U.S. leadership, local partners did not step up quickly enough to stop the Islamic State when the threat could be easily contained. Now rolling back the group’s advances requires more punch than the locals can deliver without a substantial increase in American commitment.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: May 24, 2015 Filed under: Diplomacy, War Room, White House | Tags: Al Anbar Governorate, Ashton Carter, Baghdad, Iraq, Iraqi Army, Iraqi security forces, Islamic state, John McCain, Martin Dempsey, Ramadi, United States, United States Department of State
and Janet Hook
report: Defense Secretary Ash Carter held open the possibility of a strategy shift by the White House on Iraq, a few days after recent setbacks in Iraq and Syria revived sharp criticism of the Obama
administration’s approach in combating extremist groups there.
Islamic State forces last week captured the key Iraqi city of Ramadi and also expanded their reach in Syria. Critics and even allies of the administration took to Sunday television talk shows to call for a strategy change by the administration to stem the advance of Islamic State forces.
“We have under-resourced the strategy. We need to provide more firepower support…ISIS is a threat not only to Iraq and Syria. It is a threat to us.”
— Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense from 2009 to 2012
Among the calls: More aggressively arming Sunni tribes and Peshmerga forces who oppose Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS.
“If there comes a time when we have to change the kinds of support we give we will make that recommendation.”
Mr. Carter said in an interview with CNN aired Sunday.
[Read the full text here, at WSJ]
House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R., Texas) said on ABC’s “This Week” that the battle in Ramadi was among the many reasons why he doubted the Obama administration’s claim that U.S. efforts have succeeded in degrading the strength of ISIS.
“The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered. In fact they vastly outnumbered the opposing force and yet they failed to fight and withdrew from the site…We can give them training, we can give them equipment. We obviously can’t give them the will to fight.”
— Defense Secretary Ash Carter
“I don’t see evidence of that,” said Mr. Thornberry. “I see ISIS gaining territory in Iraq and Syria.” What is more, he said, “their ideology, their approach, their brand is growing faster than their territory.”
The administration has scaled back its near-term ambitions by delaying plans for an offensive to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. It has agreed to expand and speed shipments of military equipment to Iraqi security forces and step up training for fighters from Sunni tribes.
Mr. Carter offered a withering critique of the will of Iraqi defense forces in the fall of Ramadi to Islamic State. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: October 13, 2014 Filed under: Breaking News, Global, War Room | Tags: Baghdad, Barack Obama, Erbil, Iraq, Islamic state, John Kerry, John McCain, Kobani, Ramadi, Syria, Turkey
ISIS Gains Territory Despite Weeks of Bombing by U.S., Allies, Raising Questions About Strategy
For WSJ, Margaret Coker in Erbil, Iraq,
Jay Solomon in Cairo and Tamer El-Ghobashy in Baghdad report: Islamic State militants have gained territory in Iraq and Syria despite weeks of bombing by the U.S. and its allies, raising questions about the coalition’s strategy of trying to blunt the jihadists’ advance while local forces are being trained to meet the threat on the ground.
“The strategy’s biggest weakness in Iraq, officials there say, is the glacial pace of cobbling together an Iraqi political alliance between Sunnis willing to join with the Shiite-controlled central government to rebuild a national military force to fight Islamic State more effectively.”
In Syria, fighters from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, have taken large sections of the city of Kobani in recent days, said Ismet Sheikh Hasan, the defense minister of the city’s Kurdish administration. “Most of the eastern and southern parts of the city have fallen under the ISIS control,” he said. “The situation is getting worse.”
[Also see Accept No Substitutes: As the Islamic State continues to gain territory, U.S. ground troops are needed more than ever]
This comes despite a week of heavy airstrikes around the city to help local Syrian Kurdish fighters keep Islamic State forces from the city center.
“The call for American ground troops, however unlikely to be met, caused fresh rifts in Anbar which threatened to weaken the already shaky coalition of government forces working with tribal fighters to fend off the Islamic State assault.”
In Iraq, militant forces operating in a swath of territory the size of California have extended their control of the roads and commercial routes in strategically vital Anbar Province, which connects the capital Baghdad to Jordan and Syria.
Anbar, which has critical infrastructure and whose eastern edge lies only about 25 miles from Baghdad’s center, is also in danger of falling wholly under Islamic State control despite weeks of U.S. strikes aimed at weakening the group, local officials say.
“While the militant group is yet to take the provincial capital of Ramadi, officials in Anbar warn that they are losing their grip on the city to a highly organized and disciplined insurgency that has surrounded military bases and put a choke hold on trade from Jordan, effectively controlling movements of goods and people in the region.”
The province’s chief of police was killed in a bombing Sunday, officials said, heightening unease over the government’s ability to fend off Islamic State forces. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: January 7, 2014 Filed under: Global, War Room | Tags: al Qaeda, Associated Press, Baghdad, Fallujah, Iraq, Iraqi Army, Ramadi, Sunni Islam
(AP Photo/Emad Matti)
BAGHDAD (AP) —QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA reports: A government airstrike killed 25 al-Qaida-linked militants in a besieged province west of Baghdad amid fierce clashes Tuesday between Iraqi special forces and insurgents battling for control of the key cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraqi officials said.
The al-Qaida gains in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar – once bloody battlegrounds for U.S. troops – pose the most serious challenge to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki‘s Shiite-led government since the departure of American forces in late 2011.
Iraqi forces and fighters from government-allied Sunni tribes have been battling militants to try to recapture the strategic territory, seized last week by an al-Qaida-linked group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Iraqi military spokesman Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said the Iraqi air force struck an operations center for the militants on the outskirts of Ramadi, the provincial capital, killing 25 fighters who were holed up inside.
Read the rest of this entry »