December 23, 2014

Iraq and Syria - clarity and confusion (Part One) - ADDENDUM

Soldiers of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division

In the original article, I said:

If the Iraqis are not able to defend the ['Ayn al-Asad] base, the Obama Administration will be forced into a tough decision - do we pull out of al-Anbar province and leave the Iraqis to fend for themselves - which means almost certain defeat - or do we make a stand and deploy American combat units to the area - the dreaded "boots on the ground?" Given the abysmal condition of the Iraqi armed forces, it may just come to that.

Typically releasing news on a Friday afternoon that it would prefer not get too much notice, the Obama Administration announced that 1,300 additional American troops will be deployed to Iraq after the Christmas holiday season. Of that number, 1,000 are members of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT).

Let's take a closer look at the inclusion of members of the division's 3rd BCT in this deployment. The forces currently deployed to Iraq are mostly special operations forces, whose expertise includes training of foreign forces to defend against insurgencies - the actual vernacular is "foreign internal defense." This is a core mission of the U.S. Army Special Forces (the "Green Berets") - they excel at it.

The stated mission of the American troops deployed earlier this year was to "train and advise" Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga units. The wording was meant to exclude the use of American forces in a combat role. That was later changed to a "ground" combat role as it became obvious that American pilots (from all services) were operating in a combat role.

The mission of the additional troops who have been alerted for deployment has been described as "train, advise and assist." It is the "and assist" that stands out. The paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division are not trainers or advisers, although they are likely qualified to do so - these are some of the best combat troops in the U.S. armed forces. I suspect they are being deployed to fight.

What does this tell us? It tells us that the Iraqi security forces - Army and police units - are incapable of defending the country. The situation is worse than originally thought. The initial cadre of 300 trainers and advisers is about to far exceed 3,000 - a ten-fold increase in less than six months. Let's not forget the fact that the 3,000 figure only includes troops in Iraq, and does not count the over 15,000 based in neighboring countries supporting those in Iraq or conducting the scores of combat air sorties every day.

Time is running out for the Iraqis and President Obama's options are diminishing. As ISIS continues its relentless attacks and Iraqi forces continue to fail, it may come down to committing American combat troops to the fight. This deployment may be the first step.