U.S. Special Operations in Iraq Supporting Iraqi Military

By Mike Furlong:

U.S. Military Operation Inherent Resolve: Background and Update

With the over-saturation of media coverage regarding the United States (U.S.) Presidential elections, and now the President-elect Trump transition, it is appropriate for OpsLens to re-focus and update its readership regarding American troops deployed to Iraq. The U.S. government (USG) has directed ~6000 U.S. troops, predominantly Special Operations Forces, to deploy to Iraq to advise and assist the government of Iraq’s military coalition in fighting against the terrorist group, ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).

ISIS is a violent Islamic extremist terrorist organization that uses brutal terrorism tactics to further its political and religious objectives. ISIS is composed, largely, of radical Sunni Muslims of the Wahhabi sect. It has been reported widely in the Media, that Wahhabism is the reactionary branch of Islam said to be “… the main source of global terrorism.”

I will address how ISIS was started and evolved in subsequent articles. Also, I will write later about the impact of the intense friction between the Sunni vs. Shia sects of Islam. This is an important aspect of solving major problems with an emerging Nuclear Iran (Shia) versus ISIS (radical Sunni sect), that is quietly supported by the major Sunni-led countries of the Middle East (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, et al). All these factors contribute to an unstable environment in the Middle East for the next decade or more.

By most official accounts, ISIS now has a foothold in 32 countries around the world. ISIS has declared war on, predominantly, western nations and selected nations in the Middle East. Whether the U.S. and Western nations acknowledge ISIS’ intended Caliphate (Holy War), or not, ISIS has already begun the preliminary combat phases of their “War on the West.”

ISIS has conducted real and horrific terrorist attacks throughout the various western nations, and some, around the world. The brutality and blood-shed have shocked the West in a growing list of cities, such as: Paris, Brussels, London, New York City, San Bernardino, and Orlando, just to name a few.  ISIS’ active and horrific terrorism has created fear among the populations around the World—but, especially, in the West.

As many Americans already know, the USG agreed, on September 13, 2014, to assist the Iraqi government (GoI) in reclaiming large swaths of Iraq’s sovereign territory from ISIS. ISIS invaded Iraq during the spring and summer of 2014. Since early 2016, ISIS has held major portions of Northern Iraq and Syria (depicted on the map below in the Red color).

ISIS Controlled Areas Inside Syria and Iraq

(Map Courtesy of The Falcon Group)

Essentially, President Obama committed a few thousand U.S. Special Operations Forces and Green Berets to “Advise and Assist” the Iraqi Army in defeating ISIS. Also, the USG contributed U.S. Air Force close air support and limited logistics support to the Iraqi Army and its coalition.

Over the past two years, the U.S. Military’s support mission for the Iraqi Army has crept, incrementally. First, in September 2014, the USG deployed the initial 350 troops to defend U.S. facilities in Iraq; then another 1500 troops were sent in November 2014 to train, advise and assist the Iraqi Army; later in June 2015, another 450 troops were deployed to assist the Iraqi Army; by June 2016, there were well over 3000 U.S. troops deployed to Iraq to assist the GoI and its coalition forces to attack ISIS and reclaim the city of Fallujah. The U.S. troops were key in enabling the Iraqi Army to re-capture from ISIS the Iraqi city of Fallujah (accomplished on June 26, 2016).

Shortly after the re-capture of Fallujah, the USG was asked, by the GoI to raise again its troop numbers in Iraq to the current 6000 troops. The GoI needed more U.S. troops to enable them to re-capture from ISIS the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, (originally, 2+ million people; now ~ 1 million), was over-run by ISIS during the period 5 through 25 June 2014. ISIS toppled Mosul without a serious fight. The Iraqi Army of 2014 was incapable of defending Mosul.

ISIS seemed to leap from a relatively unknown threat entity, characterized by President Obama in September 2014, as the JV team, to a mythical monster capable of defeating the Iraqi Army.

President Obama responded: “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” (For the non-sports fan, JV stands for junior varsity, and it usually means a high school or college’s secondary team.)

Lt. General Mike Flynn, then, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, contradicted the Obama Administration’s notion that ISIS was not a threat to the United States. General Flynn’s honest, unfiltered, testimony to Congress would result in him being fired by the Obama Administration (a fact that General Flynn admitted during various interviews with the media).

Additionally, there were other indicators and allegations that the Obama Administration was “sanitizing intelligence” to down-play the real threat posed by ISIS is codified by multiple media reports in Wikipedia-Intelgate. This scandal became known as the “Intel-Gate Scandal.”

In July 2015, 50 U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) military analysts signed on to a classified complaint to the Pentagon’s Inspector General that their intelligence reports were being inappropriately manipulated by members of CENTCOM.[5] They were subsequently joined by civilian and Defense Intelligence Agency analysts working for CENTCOM. Members of the groups began anonymously leaking details of the case to the press in late-August.[6][7]

The whistleblowers allege that CENTCOM, to portray a rosy image of the fight against the Islamic State, altered some reports to seem more positive, while burying other reports to keep them from the press and Congress.” [8][9][10]

Press outlets readily commented that the size and scope of cohort of whistleblowers was unprecedented, describing it as ‘a revolt” inside the intelligence community.’ [13][14]

Congressional representatives charged with overseeing the war have expressed shock and confusion over the scandal and have requested testimony from the Department of Defense officials involved in its handling.” [15]

Being mindful of these events, the U.S. Military now has ~ 6000 U.S. troops supporting the GoI’s coalition assault to reclaim the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS. An overview of the operation is depicted on the map, below:

Graphic Summary of the Iraqi Operation to Retake Mosul

This big-picture map covers the area of operations for Iraq’s military operation to relieve Mosul from ISIS control.

In a separate OpsLens article, the military operation to retake Mosul will be covered at the operational/tactical level. During the first month of this operation, beginning on October 17th of 2016, ISIS has used an asymmetric approach to guerilla warfare to defend Mosul fiercely. ISIS has employed innocent civilians as “human shields.”

The subsequent serial to this article will detail major challenges for the Iraqi coalition forces. It will provide the reasons for the slow progress in the GoI’s military campaign.

Mike Furlong is a Senior OpsLens Contributor, career Army Infantry Officer, Battalion Task Force Commander, Combat Veteran, and Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service, Retired.

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