Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, December 9, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the US government continues dropping bombs on Iraq, Turkey refuses to leave Iraq, Ash Carter announces the White House is prepared to send US troops in attack helicopters to retake Ramadi, and much more.

Today, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter informed the world that the White House was prepared to send US troops into battle in Iraq including with the use of helicopters.

Carter was appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee along side the Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Paul Selva.

Carter last appeared together before the House Armed Services Committee (at that hearing, he was testifying with the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joe Dunford).  It was at that hearing that Gen Ash Carter announced the change in policy:

Next, in full coordination with the government of Iraq, we're deploying a specialized, expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and put even more pressure on ISIL.  These special operators will, over time, be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders.   

We covered last week's hearing in the Tuesday December 1sts snapshot  and the Wednesday, December 3rd snapshot and in "Ash Carter spun wildly to Congress," additional reporting: Cedric's "Hank Johnson's sexual obsession with Barack" and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! HANK HIS JOHNSON!" covered US House Rep Hank Johnson wasting everyone's time to profess his strangely sexual obsession with Barack and Carter and Gen Joe Dunford refusing to indulge Johnson,  At Rebecca's site, Wally reported on Ranking Member Adam Smith  in "Even House Democrats are criticizing Saint Barack.(Wally)," at Trina's site Ava reported on the obsession with oil that was at the heart of the hearing in "It's still about the oil," Mike reported on US House Rep Niki Tsongas offering some realities about the so-called coalition in "US Armed Services Committee hearing offers a little bit of reality," Ruth reported on US House Rep John Kline's questioning which established that there was no cap on the number of US troops that could be in Iraq "Iraq still matters,"  Kat took on the surreal aspect with "The US just declared war on everyone but Santa," Elaine covered one time anti-war US House Rep Jackie Speier making an idiot of herself in statements and dress with "The idiot Jackie Speier" and Dona moderated a roundtable at Third on the hearing with "Congress and Iraq."

Today, Ash Carter announced US troops could help retake Ramadi with attack helicopters -- provided Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave the go ahead.

In his opening remarks, Carter declared, "After a frustrating long time, we are starting to see some movement in the operation to recapture Ramadi."  The main reveal in that sentence would be "frustratingly long time."

And  "some movement"?  They've been in this battle since May.

At what point do they actually recapture Ramadi?

We'll note this from Carter:

Next, in full coordination with the government of Iraq, we’ re deploying a specialized expeditionary targeting force to assist the ISF and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and to put even more pressure on ISIL through a variety of raids and intelligence gathering . While this force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations in Syria, in Iraq the force will operate at the invitation of the Iraqi government and focus on defending its borders and building the ISF's ability to conduct similar operations. We will not be discussing specifics of this expeditionary targeting force or its operations in unclassified settings, both to protect our forces and preserve the element of surprise. We want this expeditionary targeting force to make ISIL and its leaders wonder when they go to bed at night, who's going to be coming in the window? Chairman Dunford and I recognize that in principle there are alternatives to the strategic approach we have adopted to drive ISIL from Syria n and Iraqi territory -- including the introduction of a significant foreign ground force, hypothetically international but including U.S. forces, even in the absence of capable, motivated, local ground forces. While we certainly have the capability to furnish a U.S. component to such a ground force, we have not recommended this course of action for several reasons: In the near -term, it would be a significant undertaking that, realistically, we would have to do largely by ourselves; and it would be ceding our comparative advantage of special forces, mobility, and firepower, instead fighting on the enemy's terms. In the medium- term, by seeming to Americanize the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, we could well turn those fighting ISIL or inclined to resist their rule into fighting us instead . As Chairman Dunford testified last week, ISIL "would love nothing more than a large presence of U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria, so that they could have a call to jihad." And lastly, in the longterm, there would still remain the problem of securing and governing the territory -- these must be done by local forces. So in the end, while we can enable them, we cannot substitute for them.

The above statements were touched on during a line of questioning.

Senator John McCain is the Chair of the Committee and Senator Jack Reed is the Ranking Member. Today, we're going to note McCain's line of questioning.  Next time we'll not Senator Bill Nelson.

Chair John McCain:  Mr. Secretary, on the first of December before the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Forbes asked Gen Dunford,  

US House Rep randy Forbes:  Have we currently contained ISIL.

Gen Joe Dunford:  We have not -- We have not contained ISIL.

Chair John McCain:  Uh, Mr. Secretary, do you agree with Gen Dunford?

Secretary Ash Carter:  I, uh, agree with what Gen Dunford said, yes.

Chair John McCain:  So if we have not contained -- we have not contained ISIL, how are we to believe that we are succeeding against ISIL?

Secretary Ash Carter:  I, uh, think that, uhm, we are, uh, building momentum against ISIL.  I'm going to be very careful about describing the trajec -- I've described the trajectory of that success all around Iraq and Syria, some actions we're taking in Libya.  Uh, it's not my principal responsibility but I met yesterday with the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the FBI, the Director of National Intelligence and other officials to talk about what we could do more of to -- uhm, uh-uh, strengthen the defense of the homeland as the Dept of Defense.  But in our principle responsibility which is to take the fight to Syria and Iraq, I've  described the actions that we've taken in just the -- 

Chair John McCain:  Thank you.

Secretary Ash Carter (Con't): -- and I think they are building momentum.

Chair John McCain:  Thank you.   How long do you think it will be before we retake Mosul or Raqqa?

Secretary Ash Carter:  Uh-uh, with respect to Mosul, Mr. Chairman, uh, it is hard to say because it depends -- that depends much on the progress of the Iraqi security forces which I described in building themselves into a more capable combat force.  With respect to Ramadi -- 

Chair John McCain:  Raqqa.

Secretary Ash Carter (Con't):  -- as I described --

Chair John McCain:  Raqqa

Secretary Ash Carter:  Oh-oh, Raqqa. Well, Raqqa?  There the, uh, problem -- and you noted this yourself, Mr. Chairman, uh, the, uh, Syrian Kurds to the north have done an excellent job of clearing their territory --

Chair John McCain:  We're not going to go into -- We're not going to go into Raqqa and you I know that.

Secretary Ash Carter:  They're not going to go to Raqqa, no, no -- 

Chair John McCain:  We haven't --

Secretary Ash Carter:  It would be -- It would be the Syrian -- it would be the Syrian Arabs.

Chair John McCain:  I guess the point here, Mr. Secretary, here we are with attacks on the homeland  of the United States of America, we have not contained ISIL and we have no timeline.  The timeline I was given when Senator [Lindsey] Graham and I went over there was at least the end of next year for Mosul and there is no plan, no strategy to retake Raqqa and I think it's pretty obvious to all that as long as they have the caliphate base then they are able to orchestrate  attacks such as they've successfully achieved in the last several weeks whether it be Ankara, Russian airliners, southern Beirut, Paris or San Bernardino. So here we are with a -- and you've described some measures that are probably very helpful but with no timeline with which to take out the caliphate from which there are many things happening including -- according to news reports -- developing chemical weapons. So -- and this is why I'm really puzzled.  This morning, by the way, on one of the news shows [MSNBC's MORNING JOE], former head of the United States Army, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, Gen Ray Odierno said we ought to have American contingent troops on the ground.  And I frankly do not understand the logic in your statement about "while you certainly have the capability to harness a US component in such a ground force, we do not recommend it because it would be a significant undertaking" -- I agree -- "we would have to do it largely by ourselves" -- I do not agree -- "it would be ceding our comparative advantage" -- we'd be -- "in the medium term it would seem to Americanize the conflict" -- Does somehow -- does anybody really believe that if the United States struck  back against the people that just slaughtered some Americans in San Bernardino that somehow that would encourage them?  What encourages them, Mr. Secretary, is success.  And they have a pretty serious record here of success just in the last couple of months just since you were here.  So I do not understand why in the world you wouldn't want Gen [Jack] Keane, the architect of the surge, the successful surge, and other military leaders including, this morning, former Chief of Staff of the Untied States Army, a small component of American forces with an international force which could be -- if the United States had the credibility -- could be gathered and then go in and take out this caliphate.  As long as the caliphate -- I know of no expert who doesn't believe that as long as this caliphate exists in Raqqa they're going to be able to orchestrate attacks and metastasize and maybe even move to Libya.  So maybe you can help the Committee out again that this would somehow cede a comparative advantage if we went in with a large Arab force, the Turks and Egyptians even other Sunni nations and go in there and take those people out?  There's 20 to 30,000 of them.  They're -- It's -- They are not giants.  So -- But -- Finally --

Secretary Ash Carter:  Yeah.

Chair John McCain:  --  someone's going to have to convince me that air power alone and Special Operation Forces are going to succeed in the short term in order to prevent other further things such as San Bernardino.  I'd love to hear your response.

Secretary Ash Carter:  Uh, a couple of things, Mr. Chairman.  First of all, to your main point about, uh-uhm, more American forces -- and I-I-I would say Special Forces but others as well that train, advise and accompany -- they're not Special Forces, we are doing --

Chair John McCain:  -- I was talking about a multi-national force.

Secretary Ash Carter:  There, Mr. Chairman, I-uh-uh, as I indicated, I too wish that particularly the Sunni Arab nations of the Gulf would do more.  And going way back --

Chair John McCain:  They are willing to do so --

Secretary Ash Carter (Con't):  -- to -- I've --

Chair John McCain (Con't):  -- if there's a large commitment.

Secretary Ash Cater (Con't):  -- I've had -- I've had lengthy conversations --

Chair John McCain:  And so have I.

Secretary Ash Carter (Con't):  -- with representatives there.  Well I-I-I-I have to say that, uhm, I have, uh, consistently emphasized to them that they have a unique role here and, uh, also so far as they're concerned about Iran which is another concern that they have -- by the way, that we have also -- a totally different but, uh, serious subject also.  Uh, that, uh, what I've emphasized to them is that we don't like it but the Iranians are in the game on the ground.  And I very much would like -- we would very much welcome -- we have repeatedly said this -- working with those countries on the ground because we believe as you noted that they, uh, would have a distinct advantage in a ground fight.  With respect to the Europeans, the Europeans have, generally speaking, uh, offered to do more within their capabilities and capacities.  I will note here -- and this is uneven across-across Europe -- but in general  I am quite concerned with the level of investment that Europe is making in its militaries and its alliance and partnership and, therefore, with the United States, there is much more that their economies would enable, uhm, them to do and that their history as-as-as standing up for the same kind of civilized values that we stand up with really require of them.  And so while we're getting more from the Europeans -- and I've indicated I'd like for more -- and I'd like there to still be more so in that sense I'm completely with you.  I-I-I simply on the basis of my urgent and consistent consultations with them unless, uh-uh-uh-uh-uh have less, uh, high hopes, uh, perhaps that you  would assemble such force.  We would certainly welcome that.  With that --

Chair John McCain:  Could I just also say that I urgently and fervently  ask you for a strategy that you can tell us when we're going to take Mosul, when we're going to take Raqqa and when we're going to wipe out this caliphate.  And, frankly, I have not seen that.  General, did you want to add anything? 

Gen Paul Selva:  Sir, I would add three points. First, I agree completely that defending the homeland is our top priority.  Second, taking the fight -- 

Chair John McCain:  That's helpful.

Gen Paul Selva (Con't):  -- taking the fight to the caliphate is what is going on today in Iraq and in Syria.  The combination of increasing the momentum with the movements in Iraq in Baiji as well as in Ramadi and partnering with --

Chair John McCain:   And, again, General there is no timeline for Mosul and Raqqa which is the basis of the caliphate. 

Gen Paul Selva:  Sir, the fight on the ground defines the progress we will make against the caliphate.  We have put significant pressure on northern Syria.  We have -- we have taken -- with Syrian Arab coalition partners -- have taken significant ground in the north and in the east of Syria.  They are using the equipment that we have provided  to put pressure on ISIL's main lines of communication between Raqqa and Mosul.  To provide a timeline would be to deny the fact that the enemy on the ground gets a vote but they do not have freedom of maneuver.  They do not have operational freedom of maneuver, they do not have tactical -- 

Chair John McCain:  General, they were just able to orchestrate an attack in San Bernardino, California.  My time is long ago expired. 

Barack Obama's decision to break his promise of no-boots-on-the-ground was raised in today's State Dept press briefing

 QUESTION: Would you agree that President Obama’s initial plan not to put U.S. boots on the ground to fight ISIL has changed?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, I did not hear the first part of your question.

QUESTION: Would you agree that President Obama’s initial plan not to put U.S. boots on the ground to fight ISIL has changed?

MR KIRBY: Would I agree that his original decision not to put U.S. boots on the ground to fight ISIL has changed?

QUESTION: That’s correct.

MR KIRBY: What’s happened is the – so first of all, let me back up. There’s – the President has been clear from the very beginning as Commander-in-Chief that we’re not going to fight a large, sustained combat counter-insurgency effort in Iraq or in Syria against ISIL. He never said there was never going to be U.S. boots on the ground. And a matter of fact, there’s more than 3,000 U.S. troops in Iraq right now in a training, advising, and assisting capacity. The additional Special Operations Forces that the Secretary of Defense has talked about and which Secretary Kerry fully supports, which will be operating – there’ll be a small expeditionary force that they’ve already – that the Defense Department has already talked about in Iraq, and then there will be some – there are some small number in Syria as we speak – are largely an extension of that same mission: train, advise, and assist.
Now, that said, the Defense Department – and I don’t want to speak to military matters too much, but the Defense Department has said that there will be a component of their job, these Special Operations Forces, that would include conducting raids and assisting indigenous partners in combat that they are conducting against ISIL. So it’s very much consistent with the original mission set given to U.S. troops that have been assisting indigenous partners against ISIL. But nothing has changed about the Commander-in-Chief’s very clear direction that this isn’t going to be a long, sustained U.S. ground operation or effort against ISIL.

QUESTION: Do you think that the 3,500 troops and more on their way is not a big ground operation? Do you --

MR KIRBY: It’s not when you consider the scale of the kind of force presence that we had in Iraq up until 2011 and what we had in Afghanistan – certainly nowhere near what we have in Afghanistan now, which is just under 10,000. So it’s not on that scale, and that’s the scale that we’re measuring it against.
Again, I really don’t want to talk about military matters, but nobody’s underestimating that 3,000 is still 3,000, and that U.S. troops are in – are doing important work against a very – assisting others against a very dangerous enemy. We’re all mindful of that. And not to mention that you have pilots and air crew that are also flying combat missions over Iraq and Syria. I think everybody understands that – the importance of that. But it’s nowhere near the scale in terms of the troops that we have seen in the last 14 years in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s much smaller than that, and I think it – as we used to say, it’s not just how many you have; it’s what they’re doing. And it’s very clear that the mission for our troops against ISIL is the same mission it’s always been, which is to help degrade and destroy this organization by helping build the capacity of indigenous partners on the ground, both Iraq – both in Iraq and in Syria. Okay?

QUESTION: But it’s also clear that those are boots on the ground, right, right now?

MR KIRBY: I’m not disputing that there are U.S. troops on the ground. But nobody ever said there – nobody said there wouldn’t ever be. What was made clear was that the mission wouldn’t be a large, sustained ground combat operation against ISIL, and we aren’t doing that. That is – nothing has changed about that, not one bit.

QUESTION: John, I just wanted to – if you could clarify the use of the term “expeditionary” force. It’s a mouthful. Can --

MR KIRBY: Expeditionary.

QUESTION: Expeditionary --

MR KIRBY: Just say it slow. It just rolls right off.

QUESTION: Is it – I mean I – “expeditionary.”

MR KIRBY: There you go.

QUESTION: Okay. So is it intended to expedite – I mean, is that – what is it going to do?

MR KIRBY: No, “expeditionary” --

QUESTION: I mean, as a military man, explain to us the difference --

MR KIRBY: “Expeditionary” means that the mission or that – and the units applied to a mission are being deployed someplace other than where they’re based for usually a limited amount of time and for a very discrete mission set.

QUESTION: So it is mobility, right?

MR KIRBY: It – part of being expeditionary is being agile, it’s being flexible, it’s being mobile. Absolutely, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. So they could strike, let’s say, here one day, then move another 400 miles and strike?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, it’s about being mobile, yes. It is. But, I mean, I wouldn’t get into specific operational parameters.

QUESTION: And so how come this was never used before? This is the first time this phrase is being used --

QUESTION: Since the Spanish-American --

QUESTION: If all it means is that they’re being sent other than where they’re based, then presumably all troops that are sent elsewhere --

MR KIRBY: Well, you’d have to --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) It’s been used for decades.



QUESTION: It was used by --

QUESTION: The Allied Expeditionary Force that went to – that fought in World War I. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I don’t think I – I don’t think I need to be here anymore.

QUESTION: You’ve got to say – you’ve got to – (laughter) --

MR KIRBY: I defer to Arshad, who’s absolutely correct. (Laughter.) No, he’s right.

QUESTION: Someone with more knowledge --

MR KIRBY: It’s not a new phrase, it’s not a new term, and I would point you to the Defense Department for more details about that.

And there you see the useless State Dept press -- more focused on when the term "expeditionary" was last used or first used than on the broken promises of a sitting president.

They also aren't eager to question the State Dept or the Defense Dept -- let alone Barack himself -- on how the plan or 'plan' has been a failure.

Today, the Defense Dept announced:

Strikes in Iraq
Rocket artillery and fighter, bomber, attack, and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 22 strikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of the Iraqi government:
-- Near Huwayjah, a strike destroyed four ISIL bunkers and seven ISIL trenches.
-- Near Albu Hayat, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed two ISIL vehicles, two ISIL rockets, and an ISIL weapons cache.
-- Near Kirkuk, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit, suppressed an ISIL mortar system, and destroyed an ISIL heavy machine gun and two ISIL fighting positions.
-- Near Kisik, a strike destroyed four ISIL rockets.
-- Near Mosul, two strikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL vehicle.
-- Near Qayyarah, seven strikes struck an ISIL logistical facility, an ISIL training facility, an ISIL weapons cache, an ISIL weapons storage facility, two ISIL staging areas, and an ISIL tactical unit, and destroyed an ISIL bunker.
-- Near Ramadi, four strikes struck three separate large ISIL tactical units, denied ISIL access to terrain, and destroyed three ISIL bed down locations, two ISIL light machine guns, two ISIL heavy machine guns, an ISIL recoilless rifle, four ISIL fighting positions, an ISIL tactical vehicle, three ISIL buildings, four ISIL vehicle bombs, an ISIL vehicle bomb making factory, an ISIL staging area, an ISIL compound, an ISIL resupply location, and two ISIL command and control nodes.
-- Near Sinjar, three strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units, immobilized an ISIL vehicle, and destroyed three ISIL fighting positions and an ISIL heavy machine gun.
-- Near Baghdadi, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL building.
-- Near Fallujah, a strike destroyed an ISIL homemade explosives cache, an ISIL bed down location and an ISIL vehicle bomb making factory.

Task force officials define a strike as one or more kinetic events that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative, effect. Therefore, officials explained, a single aircraft delivering a single weapon against a lone ISIL vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against buildings, vehicles and weapon systems in a compound, for example, having the cumulative effect of making those targets harder or impossible for ISIL to use. Accordingly, officials said, they do not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target.

Turning to the continued Turkish invasion of Iraq, Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave Turkey 48 hours to remove their troops from Mosul.  Yesterday saw Turkey's response: We'll stop sending troops into Iraq . . . but we're leaving those already in Mosul.

In someone's mind, that was an 'answer.'

The same way, when Iraqi officials -- including Haider -- denounced Turkey's bombing of northern Iraq and Turkey -- with the backing of the US government -- blew off the concerns and continues to bomb northern Iraq.

Yesterday, Russia -- which has its own tensions with Turkey -- took the matter to the United Nations Security Council.  Edith M. Lederer (AP) reports that Vitaly Churkin, Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations, states he declared Turkey was conducting itself "recklessly and inexplicably" and that they were acting without legal backing.

Though Hadier had insisted he would take the matter to the United Nations, he did not do so.

In  a chance to play catch up -- and also an effort to practice some face saving -- he's made a move.  Tulay Karadeniz and Ercan Gurses (REUTERS) report that he issued a statement (whine?) insisting, "NATO must use its authority to urge Turkey to withdraw immediately from Iraqi territory."  RUDAW adds:

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg vowed Tuesday  to preserve the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq, after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called on the organization to use its authority to force a withdrawal of Turkish forces from Iraq.

At THE NEW YORKER, Dexter Filkins weighs in noting:

The Turkish move into Iraq is the latest in a series of geopolitical flailings by the blustering and impulsive Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Most of them are related to the civil war in Syria. Since 2011, when the Syrian uprising began, Erdoğan has sought to gain some kind of advantage there, or at least to feel sure that he is backing the right horse. And he’s failed miserably. As much as any other leader in the region, Erdoğan has pushed vigorously for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. To see this through, the Turkish government has backed the most extreme rebel groups, including ISIS, allowing and even helping foreign fighters to come into Turkey and cross into Syria. ISIS would never have metastasized as virulently as it has without Turkey’s assistance.