Monday, October 06, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Monday, October 6, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Barack's spent over a billion tax payer dollars on his bombing 'plan' in two months alone, the 'plan' faces more criticism, a bombing kills civilians in hit, the Pentagon insists they know of no civilian deaths, the Islamic State takes another city, the Pentagon insists the problem is not the taking of the city but the media coverage it has received, and much more.

It is now months since US President Barack Obama sent the first wave of 'advisors' into Iraq to determine what was needed.  The 'advisors' were US military in one form or another.

So is it really that surprising that what Barack's so-called 'plan' ended up being was a military action?

Barack has repeatedly (and rightly) insisted that what Iraq needs is a political solution, that only such a solution will provide stability and ease the tensions at the root of Iraq's multiple crises; however, his 'advisors' sent in to determine how to address the crises were not experts in politics or diplomacy.

Had they been, Barack might have had some sort of political aspect for his 'plan.'

Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts (Bemidji Pioneer) note in their syndicated column:

The president has set out two clear principles. The first is to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” the extreme jihadist movement also known as ISIS and Islamic State that now occupies large swaths of Iraq and Syria. The second is to accomplish that goal without deploying American combat troops.
“As your commander in chief,” he told soldiers based in Tampa, Fla., “I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq.”
But what if those two principles are not compatible? What if the resources Obama is prepared to commit — American airpower and advisers, working with local military assets — are not sufficient to accomplish the mission of crippling ISIL? Then what?

Then what indeed?

Yesterday, Barack added to the military 'plan' of endless bombing by putting US Apache helicopters into the mix.  Mitchell Prothero (McClatchy Newspapers) explains:

The United States escalated its involvement yesterday, sending helicopters into combat against targets west of Baghdad — the first time low-flying Army aircraft have engaged in President Obama’s new campaign in Iraq, despite promises it would not include “boots on the ground.”
Until yesterday, U.S. airstrikes in Iraq had involved Air Force and Navy jets and drones. The use of the low, slow-flying helicopters also suggests the security situation in Iraq’s Anbar province is deteriorating. Last week, the Islamic State terrorists overran numerous Iraqi bases and towns.

Dan Lamothe (Washington Post) explains, "Using Apaches introduces considerably more risk to the U.S. troops involved, however. While fighter jets and bombers might have to contend with mechanical malfunctions, they can operate in Iraq unimpeded by rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons that can be used to target low-flying aircraft. Helicopters have been shot down over Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia in the last 25 years."  And an Iraqi helicopter was shot down days ago by the Islamic State, "AP reports the Islamic State 'shot down an Iraqi military attack helicopter' near Baiji on Friday. NINA adds both pilots were killed in the crash."

Of the helicopters, RT observes, "Their use in aggressive bombing of areas controlled by Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) could signal mission creep for the US military, which US President Barack Obama has said will not take part in ground-force operations."  Jason Ditz ( points out, "The eventuality of such a shootdown is likely to mean US ground troops sent on rescue missions to try to recover the downed pilots. This could end up being the pretext for launching a ground operation against ISIS, and such an incident seems only a matter of time."  Ben Farmer (Irish Independent) echoes that point, "Though they are known for their formidable battlefield firepower, they are also more vulnerable to ground fire than the attack jets and bombers that have so far led the air campaign."

Of the air campaign, right-wing  Kimberly Kagan and her husband Frederick (Foreign Policy) are unhappy with the level of war Barack is providing and they want ground troops and they want them now:

The U.S. has hit about 334 mostly tactical targets in both Syria and Iraq in the intervening 50-odd days. To put that number in perspective, the 76-day air campaign that toppled the Taliban in 2001 dropped 17,500 munitions on Afghanistan. Those bombs directly aided the advance of thousands of Afghan fighters supported by U.S. special operators capable both of advising them and of identifying and designating targets to hit. There are no U.S. special operators on the ground in Iraq or Syria, no pre-planned or prepared advance of Iraqi security forces, and no allies on the ground in Syria. This is not an air campaign.

It's also not a 'plan' but you probably have to be concerned about Iraq, and not getting sexually aroused by the killing, to notice that.

Barack's plan is getting attention today -- for so many reasons.  Reasons like the bombing in Hit which has resulted in 42 people being injured and 24 killed.

: مقتل(24)مدنيا، وإصابة 42 آخرين بجروح -في حصيلة أولية-؛ جراء قيام الطيران باستهداف سوق شعبي وسط قضاء هيت. .

What you can see above with your own eyes and what medical sources in Hit report isn't good enough for the US military command.  Nabih Bulos and Patrick J. McDonnell (Los Angeles Times) quote CENTCOM spokesperson Major Curtis J. Kellogg insisting, "We have seen the media reports alleging civilian casualties in Hit, Iraq.  However, based on our current assessment, we believe them to be false and have seen no evidence to corroborate these claims. I can assure you that prior to any mission, every precaution is taken to ensure we do not harm civilians or civilian facilities. However, we take all such reports seriously and look into them further."  By all means, look further at the photo and maybe take some time to speak with the local hospital.  You know Kellogg is just hoping there's no serious media interest -- like last week when US bombings in Mosul resulted in the deaths of 4 Iraqi civilians.  He's hoping there's no interest and, if that's the case, in a week or so you can expect CENTCOM to quietly release a minor statement acknowledging the 'regrettable' deaths and pretending that such deaths happen in spite of Barack's 'plan' as opposed to because of Barack's 'plan.'

The 'plan' is a failure.  The decision to send in US helicopters is an acknowledgment of that.  But it doesn't alter the 'plan,' it only feeds into the worst parts of the 'plan' and the overall failure of the 'plan.'

Lyse Doucet (BBC News) points out, "Depending on how you calculate the percentages, IS fighters still hold anywhere from a quarter to a third of Iraqi territory.  Hundreds of Western and Iraqi air strikes since 8 August have not fundamentally altered the new map although many say it would look even worse if the aerial campaign had not been unleashed."

It's been two months and the White House still can't admit that the 'plan' is a failure.

Instead, the answer is to add more US forces hoping that can somehow fix a failing plan.


It's not going to.

Political leaders make this mistake repeatedly and the result in loss of lives.

Instead of having the courage to admit they've made a mistake, they grow stubborn and throw more lives onto the battle.  It's not their lives so they're not too concerned.  They're more concerned about their own egos.  So the 'answer' becomes send more and more troops in and pretend that the 'plan' itself is sound.

And that's always what's behind 'mission creep' -- another reality few wish to be honest about.

The 'double down' is never about 'saving' a supposed victim but instead about attempting to salvage their own reputation.

At what cost?

For starters, Lolita C. Baldor (AP) reports the Pentagon has announced the US war against the Islamic State has resulted in US war planes having "dropped roughly 185 munitions, including 47 cruise missiles" and that at least $1.1 billion had been spent so far.

That's a lot of money spent on a failing 'plan.'  Xinhua reports:

The Islamic State (IS) militants captured three neighborhoods in the predominantly Kurdish city of Kobane in northern Syria on Monday, the oppositional Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The IS attacks on the neighborhoods of Kani Araban, Industrial City, and Maqtala al-Jadeeda in the eastern part of Kobane came after the terrorist group's intense clashes with the Kurdish militants of the People's Protection Unites, or YPG, according to the Observatory.

And the US government's response to this latest setback -- humiliating setback?  To claim that this is an issue inflated by local media.  Holly Yan, Michael Pearson and Ingrid Formanek (CNN) note:

And the Pentagon, the [unnamed "senior military"] official said, believes there's a media outcry about the situation in Kobani because reporters are there. Many other towns have fallen to ISIS without TV crews present, the official said.

Oh, it's the fact that "TV crews [were] present," that's the problem -- not that Kobani was taken.  In other words, if an Iraqi city falls in the forest when no one is around, it doesn't make a sound.

In a similarly stupid vein, the White House and administration officials have argued that the problems include a poorly trained military -- this despite all the years and billions the US spent training the military.

The military problems might not be an issue if, for example, the US government hadn't demanded the military be purged of Ba'athists back in 2003 and the years that followed.  It might also not be a problem if former prime minister and forever thug of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki hadn't brought Shi'ite death squads into the Iraqi military (Tim Arango broke that story in the fall of 2013).  But, as Mustafa Habib (Niqash) reports, those are hardly the only problems with the Iraqi military:

The Iraqi army is suffering badly from what locals describe as the “astronaut phenomenon”. That is, soldiers who pay money to superior officers so they can leave the world of the military and stay out of danger, far from the battle field. This means that sometimes when a general sends a battalion to fight, only half the soldiers are there. And recently, with attacks by extremists, this phenomenon has been getting worse.  

Last week a confidential meeting was hosted by Iraq’s Parliamentary committee on security and defence and one of the guests was Rasheed Flaih, the Lieutenant General who is in charge of the Iraqi army’s operations in the province of Anbar.  

At the September 27 meeting the military men and politicians discussed the ever-increasing absence of soldiers from their units in the province.  

“Participants in the meeting discussed the number of different sieges of the Iraqi army in the Anbar area and how many soldiers were being killed by members of the terrorist organisation, the Islamic State,” one of those who attended the meeting told NIQASH on condition of anonymity.

“Also discussed was the fact that there had been an increase in the number of Iraqi soldiers who were leaving areas where they could expect to see action – such as the provinces Anbar, Salahaddin and Diyala. This means that there are fewer than expected soldiers on the battlefields,” the source said.  

The stupidity of the White House never fails to stun.  Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has taken public many criticisms that he made in real time privately to the administration.  They can't deny these charges, so the administration has tried to attack Leon.  I know Leon and I like him.  I also know and like Vice President Joe Biden.  But . . .

I don't think Joe's ever said anything as idiotic as what Jason Ditz quotes him as saying:

Vice President Joe Biden was quick to criticize Panetta, although not on the content of his hawkish comments. Rather, Biden said it was “inappropriate” for Panetta to criticize Obama at all, on anything, until after 2016, and that he should “at least give the guy a chance to get out of office.”

A friend was joking over the weekend that "Uncle Joe" should run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination with the slogan Free Flow Joe to note that Joe lacks any filter or self-censorship.

And he's said many dumb things but to insist that Leon or anyone is unable to criticize Barack for two more years is so deeply stupid and so deeply offensive that Joe, who doesn't have a real shot at the presidential nomination, should go ahead now and announce he won't be seeking it.

I like John Kerry and I supported his 2004 run.  When he had an incident that was just too destructive, I noted here he should give up plans to seek a second run in 2008.  Joe's remarks are the same type of offensive.  You really can't come back from that.  It doesn't go away and it undermines you at every step.

That's far from Joe's only problem remarks of late. As Alsumaria reported, Joe spent the weekend working the phones with the UAE and Turkey after he publicly declared that the two governments supported terrorism.

The White House fails repeatedly at diplomacy.  Today, at the US State Dept press briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki attempted to focus on diplomatic efforts in Iraq:

Over the weekend, General Allen and Ambassador McGurk traveled to Erbil where they met with Kurdistan Regional Prime Minister Barzani, other senior KRG officials, provincial leaders, and tribal sheiks. Noting important recent victories by joint Sunni-Shiite tribal fighters and with Peshmerga forces – excuse me -- and Arab tribes joining to retake the vital border crossing at Rabia. General Allen and Ambassador McGurk conveyed our strong support for all Iraqis coming together as a national front to defeat ISIL, including through the formation of integrated national guard units that would work in concert with a restructured Iraqi army.
General Allen and Ambassador McGurk confirmed that the United States and other international partners are prepared to support these security reforms in a manner consistent with Iraq’s constitution, sovereignty, and independence. They also discussed the urgent need for the coalition to support the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, which is a critical line of effort in the comprehensive campaign to degrade and defeat ISIL.

In their meetings with KRG officials, General Allen and Ambassador McGurk affirmed the historic relationship with the Kurdistan region of Iraq and its people and underscored our full commitment to that relationship.

I don't have a great deal of confidence in those efforts but I could be wrong -- and I hope I am.  We'll close with the October 3rd press conference Allen held in Baghdad (and we'll pick up on that tomorrow).

AMBASSADOR JONES:  Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the American Embassy.  It is great to see you here. So, welcome to the Embassy, it is great to have you here.
My name is Stuart Jones.  I had the honor yesterday of presenting my credentials to His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Iraq.  And so I am now very pleased to be here to replace my good friend and colleague, Steve Beecroft.  And, on this, my third day of work, it is also a great honor to present to you my good friend and colleague, General John Allen, who, as you know, is the President's special envoy to building the coalition against Daeesh.
So, General Allen has been here now since yesterday.  He is here with Deputy Special Envoy Ambassador Brett McGurk, who, as you all know, is also no stranger to Iraq.  And so, I will just ask General Allen to make a few brief remarks, and then he will take a couple questions.  Thank you.

GENERAL ALLEN:  Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Mesah Al-Kheir, and it is a pleasure to be back in Iraq, and see so many familiar faces.  And I would like to, in advance of this moment, wish all of you a very hearty Eid Mubarak.  I want to thank the great team here at the embassy here in Baghdad for the support that has been rendered to my team, to assist me in having access to so many of the leaders and the individuals within the Iraqi Government.  And I particularly appreciate Ambassador Jones's welcome to our team, and to the hospitality that he has shown here, as we have arrived in Baghdad.
This is the first of many trips that I anticipate making to the region.  And it was important that the first trip that we took to the region would be to Baghdad, particularly in my new capacity as a Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.
That Ambassador McGurk and I have come to Iraq for our first international trip speaks volumes about the importance that we place on our partnership with Iraq as we go forward with the intent, ultimately, to degrade and to defeat ISIL over time.
Now, before I read out our meetings thus far, let me first say that the United States strongly condemns the terrorist attacks across Iraq this week that took scores of innocent lives, including women and children.  This kind of wanton violence against innocents, especially during the holy period of Eid, underscores ISIL’s utter absence of respect for the sanctity of human life. 
From January forward, the U.S. has focused on strengthening the Iraqi Security Forces, because that is the desire and the request of the Government of Iraq, and because enabling partners to take on this fight is a critical part of the strategy to defeat ISIL.
Ambassador McGurk and I met last night with Prime Minister Abadi and National Security Adviser Al-Fayad, where I conveyed the strong, ongoing U.S. support for Iraq in our shared fight against ISIL.  And we are continuing to meet with a broad range of actors from across the Iraqi political and military spheres.
As President Obama said in New York during the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Abadi has committed his government to addressing the issues that led to past failures in the security ranks, and has already been replacing commanders and reaching out to all of Iraq’s diverse communities.  The United States, like Prime Minister Abadi, believes in a vision of an inclusive Iraq, in which Sunni, Shia, Kurds are all able to come together to peacefully iron out their differences to achieve prosperity and peace for all Iraqis.  All Iraqis. We have great respect for the Prime Minister’s vision of the necessary reforms, and strongly support his efforts to reach out to Iraq’s neighbors and to work with them on this shared challenge of degrading and defeating ISIL.
In all of our meetings, I am emphasizing our strong support for Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity.  And we are committed to working in close support of Iraq regaining territory that ISIL has currently taken over, and making sure that the new government is able to control its territory once ISIL is pushed back. 
President Obama and Prime Minister Abadi have been clear: We must build Iraqi capacity to take on the fight. That is why the U.S. will not send combat troops to Iraq, but instead continue our support for Iraqi security forces through military advisers, training, and capacity building.  The fight will not be easy, and there will be an ebb and flow on the battlefield as time goes on, particularly as Iraqi leaders appoint new commanders,
reconfigure their formations on the ground, and restore the capacity of their forces. This will take time and will require patience.
To that end, we also discussed how the international coalition can help bring to life Prime Minister Abadi’s vision for an integrated National Guard program. We have appreciated the opportunity here in Baghdad to hear about the Iraqi Government’s work with the provincial and tribal leaders as this plan moves forward from concept to reality, and we applaud this broad-based conversation amongst the Iraqis.  The U.S. and some of our international coalition partners will continue to work closely to support that vision, as well.
While naturally the military piece of this is very important, and in all our meetings we are discussing coalition contributions, we also put emphasis on the other lines of effort for the strategy, not just the military support, which obviously gets a lot of attention today, but we also talk about the stopping of the flow of foreign fighters, cutting off ISIL revenue and access to financing, providing humanitarian assistance, and, very importantly, fighting ISIL’s messaging, the idea of ISIL.
And I would like to talk a bit more about that last portion, that last of the five components, because it is something that goes right to the heart of how ISIL will eventually be defeated.  As President Obama said before the UN General Assembly a few weeks ago, “The ideology of ISIL will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed and confronted and refuted in the light of day.”  So we strongly encourage and we support those voices here in Iraq and in the region articulating what ISIL is, which is an un-
Islamic terrorist entity, spreading a message of hate, undertaking violence and nihilism.
But it is incumbent on all of us in this fight against ISIL to work together, and to offer an alternative vision for the future.  ISIL turns frustrated young people into potential agents of terror.  To resist ISIL’s lure, these young people have to believe in a different future, one of inclusivity, one of tolerance, and one of economic hope.  That is why the United States so strongly supports Prime Minister Abadi’s continued outreach to all Iraqis, and his efforts to build an inclusive Iraq that offers hope and promise for all Iraqis, for all your people.
As President Obama and Secretary Kerry have said, this is ultimately a fight that the Iraqi people will have to win.  We cannot win it for you. And it will take time. A single round of airstrikes will not defeat the enemy.  That is why we are going after ISIL not just in the battle space, but we are attacking ISIL in the financial space and in the information space, as well. 
We can and we will stand shoulder to shoulder with Iraq in this fight.  You have suffered greatly at ISIL’s hands. We are here to help you fight back, and to make sure that, once ISIL is defeated, it can never regroup and terrorize the Iraqi people again.
Shukran Jazeelan.  With that, I will be happy to take a couple of questions.

MODERATOR:  Questions?

QUESTION:  (Via translator) There is this impression, General, that the American (inaudible) environment is not that effective right now, and they are ignoring many of the leads that are given to them by the informant and by the Iraqi Government.  Do you think that there is a different way to do this?  My first question.
Second question is regarding the headquarters of this international coalition.  Don't you think that the headquarters should be in Iraq?  But we heard a few days ago that it is going to be in Kuwait.  Don't you think that would reduce its efficiency, if it was away from the field of operation?

GENERAL ALLEN:  I will answer the second one first.  I am not going to comment on the operational locations of the headquarters or the command and control.  I know we are still building out the force, I know we are still consolidating the coalition.  And so I think we need some more time, obviously, to determine where the final location of that will be.  There will be, certainly, representatives of the headquarters that will be inside Iraq that will be located -- collocated with your security force leadership.  And whether the overall headquarters is ultimately in Kuwait or Iraq, that is a decision that I am not a party to at this particular moment.  But I know we will consider all of those locations.
With respect to the first point, I would dispute the contention that the airstrikes to this point have not been effective.  In fact, many airstrikes have slowed the momentum or halted the momentum of ISIL as it has moved across the ground.  Some of the airstrikes have supported, for example, the retaking of the Mosul Dam, the maintenance of Iraqi governmental support or Iraqi control of the Haditha Dam.  Airstrikes have supported counter-attacks, local counter-attacks by Iraqi security forces.
But your point is a good one, and is one that we should continue to try to refine, and that is the information flow to our forces which conduct the airstrikes needs to be closely coordinated.  We need to be talking to the Iraqi leadership and the sources of the information on targets, with the idea that we can be the most effective we possibly can be in applying the aerial fire power to support both the Iraqi people, but very importantly, the Iraqi security forces.  And that is a process I think we will continually re-evaluate to ensure it is as efficient and as agile as it can be. 
Thank you very much, a good question.

QUESTION:  (Via translator) (Inaudible) you are the presidential envoy to the -- for the Coalition to Combat ISIS.  Do you think that the international coalition intends to completely eliminate ISIS?  This is my first question.
The second question, we have some information that (inaudible) is going to be supportive, as well, in training, in arms, and in some advanced weapons.  Can you tell us a little bit about some of the advanced weapons that are going to be given to Iraq, and also the training that is going to be provided?  Is it going to be provided to the elite forces only, or to the general Iraqi Army?

GENERAL ALLEN:  Give me the first part of the question again, please.

QUESTION:  (Via translator) Well, the first part is you are the presidential convoy to the Coalition to Combat ISIS.  Do you think that the international coalition really intends to completely eliminate ISIS?  This is the first question.

GENERAL ALLEN:  That is a really important point.  The defeat of ISIS, which is the intent, will occur in several ways.  And I think it is useful to consider the environment in which ISIS operates. 
The traditional environment that we consider is that ISIS operates in the physical space.  It takes ground, it holds infrastructure, it dominates populations, it operates in the physical space.  Defeating ISIS in the physical space will require a counter-offensive in which we will help to train those forces which will be part of that counter-offensive.  We will help with the application of air power in support of those activities in the counter-offensive to liberate terrain, to liberate people. 
Coming in right behind those military actions will be a strong humanitarian assistance, as well, to rescue the populations from the oppression of ISIS, to provide relief to the people that have suffered so much. 
And the successful portion of the campaign, as it relates to Iraq, will be that, ISIS, as an identifiable organization, will cease to exist inside Iraq.  That doesn't mean that every single member of ISIS has been eliminated.  But the organization has ceased to exist.  There are no safe havens, there is no capacity to challenge Iraqi security forces and, ultimately, to dominate the people.  That is in the physical space.
But ISIS operates in several other spaces, as well.  It operates in the financial space, and it generates a lot of revenue.  And while the counter-attack against ISIS in the physical space is underway, there is going to be a very concerted international effort to attack ISIS in the financial space also, to try to deny it the revenue that it generates every single day that gives it the oxygen that it breathes to give it some effectiveness.  And we want to choke off its finances, to choke off that oxygen, to cause it to begin to wilt from within.
Your point is even more important when you think about the other space in which it operates.  It operates in the information space.  And in some cases ISIS is much less effective in the physical space than it is terrorizing in the information space.  And it achieves great effect in the information space.  And we not only want to compete with ISIS in the information space, in the space of ideas, we want to contest that space.  We want to deny that space to ISIS by a broad-based consensus of the participants in the coalition and, more broadly, the international community that what ISIS stands for is something that is so reprehensible and so odious, that the global community repudiates the very idea of ISIS.
So, as the physical attack is occurring, as the financial attack is occurring, we are attacking the very idea that gives life to ISIS as an ideology.
But it is broader than ISIS.  It is more broadly-based than ISIS.  It is about terrorism.  It is about extremism.  It is about attacking those issues, ultimately, that have given rise to ISIS.  So that is a really important question, and I hope I have given you some thoughts in that regard.
The other piece of this is the training that will -- we will undertake.  It is not just for the special operators, your special forces.  And, by the way, your special forces are some of the best on the planet; they are very, very good.  This is about restoring the capabilities of the Iraqi Army.  And as we work closely with your government, and work closely with the Iraqi Army to determine the size of that army and its organization, there will be decisions that will be made on the means to move that army -- in other words, how it will be transported across a battle space, some of which will be in wheeled vehicles, some of which will be in armored vehicles -- and the weapons systems that will be made available to that Iraqi Army, that refurbished Iraqi Army, so it is a competent, capable, and credible combined-arms force.
Now, I can't go into the details with you on that, because decisions are still being made.  But we are committed to doing that.  And thank you for that question.

And I think that does it?  Okay.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.  Thank you.


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