The operation to retake Mosul from Islamic State forces is proof of the quote “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
Just ten days into the Mosul offensive, military planners are accelerating their timeline to try to take the Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital, because they’re seeing lots of traffic going from Mosul to Raqqa.
Complicating matters are the various alliances and interests of U.S.-led coalition partners that intersect and overlap with one another. For example, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be helpful in any coalition move on Raqqa. But Turkey sees the SDF in alliance with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization.
Meanwhile, Turkey wants a role in the Mosul operation to protect the rights of ethnic Turks there. Iraq’s prime minister has ruled that out.
About 30,000 Iraqi troops along with about 3,000 Kurdish peshmerga forces are on the front lines of the Mosul offensive. The U.S. has as many as 200 special operations troops on the ground embedded in an advise and assist role and is leading the coalition air support.
Perhaps the most critical job the U.S. has is keeping the disparate factions focused on the mission and defusing diplomatic distractions.
Is Mosul ISIS’ Alamo?
Daniel L. Davis – The National Interest
If the Islamic State has adopted the “Alamo” strategy, it may be willing to suffer 50, 60 or even up to 75 percent casualties, yet still tenaciously fight on. “There is no chance” that ISIS is going to retreat from the city, according an October 23 dispatch published by Mosul Eye, the most authoritative source of information from within Mosul for the past two years. “There is no safe heaven [sic] for them anywhere in Iraq either; it is just impossible for them to blend,” Mosul Eye wrote, and also pointed out that there is no known program for the reintegration of ISIS members.
WATCH: U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter discuss the Mosul offensive in a press conference with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Meaning that there are few places where ISIS’s Iraqi members can flee, and no motivation to surrender. The chances that Mosul represents the Alamo for ISIS are substantial. There is great risk for the coalition if this turns out to be the case.
Why the Middle East Knows Not to Trust the United States
David Ignatius – The Washington Post
When the United States fights its wars in the Middle East, it has a nasty habit of recruiting local forces as proxies and then jettisoning them when the going gets tough or regional politics intervene….
I fear, this syndrome is happening again in Syria, as a Kurdish militia group known as the YPG, which has been the United States’ best ally against the Islamic State, gets pounded by the Turkish military….
The United States has tried, unsuccessfully, to finesse the Turkish-Kurdish animosity. Before the Manbij offensive began in May, the United States brought to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey a delegation from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition that nominally oversees the YPG. But this effort to paper over Turkish-Kurdish differences crumpled after the attempted coup in Turkey in July. Some of the Turkish generals who met the SDF are now said to be in prison as coup suspects.
What the Syrian Kurds have Wrought
Si Sheppard – The Atlantic
After the failure of the West’s democracy-building efforts in Iraq and the disappointment of the Arab Spring, the Kurdish achievement is unique. It holds the potential to become a viable, America-friendly society—one that can serve as an exemplar of indigenous Middle Eastern, secular, democratic, feminist values, at a time when even those states in the region founded on similar principles are moving in the opposite direction. But that prospect now teeters on a knife’s edge….
But America’s partnership with Rojava only extends to the limits of its existing alliance commitments. Complying with the brutal dictates of great-power geopolitics, Washington has signed off on Turkish intervention in Syria with the intent of preventing the Kurds from uniting the cantons of Rojava into a contiguous territory.
Avoiding Old Traps in Iraq
Jon B. Alterman – Center for Strategic & International Studies
The battle that is unfolding in Mosul this month has a sectarian tinge, which is probably unavoidable. The fighting forces have sectarian roots, and the population has been increasingly divided along sectarian lines.
As the dust settles, however, it would be a profound mistake to see Mosul’s post-conflict environment principally in sectarian terms. There are many ethnic and sectarian groups in Mosul to be sure: Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmen, and others. But there are other ways to see the population: through tribes, leading families, economic class, and professions. There may even be differences in approaches to politics.
The Meaning of Mosul
Philip H. Gordon – Council on Foreign Relations
The Mosul operation will be even more complicated because it is going to be carried out by a complex coalition of Iraqi security forces (ISF), counterterrorism forces, police, and special operating forces; Kurdish peshmerga; Sunni fighters from various tribes, not all of which get along with one another; competing Shia militia groups that are insisting on being part of the battle; and various minority groups that come from Mosul and the surrounding cities. These fighters don’t have experience coordinating with one another, and, in many cases, are mortal enemies….
Turkey feels it has a major stake in Mosul. It has a historic role in the region and feels an affinity with Sunnis and ethnic Turkmen in the city and surrounding areas. Turkey wants to shift the balance from Iran-backed Shia. Then there’s the Kurdish element…
Allah Wants ISIS to Retreat
Cole Bunzel – Foreign Policy
How…does a group that projected such unbounded confidence, whose legitimacy seemed to rest on seizing and controlling large territories, adjust its message to less fortunate circumstances?
The answer is surprisingly simple:…divine favor comes with ups and downs. It is God’s practice to subject His creation to trials and tests, as He subjected the prophets and the early Muslims before our time.
As a result, this misfortune is nothing to cry over.