The Battle to Liberate Mosul Has Begun. Updated: And Dabiq Has Been Liberated Too!

Here’s the link to the strike press releases by Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.

There will be more to come on this in the coming days. In the meantime here’s a link to the CJTF Spokesman doing a briefing – he’s one of my former students and an excellent Public Affairs Officer. Three other former students of mine are also with him at CJTF OIR.

Updated at 11:05 PM EDT

I missed it, but Secretary of Defense Carter issued another, very important press release today as well:

Statement by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on the Liberation of Dabiq‎

Release No: 16-110 Oct. 16, 2016

Release No: NR-369-16
Oct. 16, 2016

I welcome today’s news that Syrian opposition forces liberated the Syrian town of Dabiq from ISIL control, aided by strong support from our ally Turkey and our international coalition. This is more than just the latest military result against this barbaric group. Dabiq held symbolic importance to ISIL. The group carried out unspeakable atrocities in Dabiq, named its English-language magazine after the town and claimed it would be the site of a final victory for the so-called caliphate. Instead its liberation gives the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat new momentum in Syria. Again I want to congratulate the Syrians who fought to free Dabiq and thank our ally Turkey for the close coordination during this operation.

 This is a very, very important bit of news. The town of Dabiq, Syria is central to ISIL’s apocalyptic theology. As I wrote about back in FEB 2015, ISIL believes that the defining battle of their version of Islam’s armageddon will be fought between the Muwaheedun (adherents to the radical unity of the Deity) and the infidel. By denying Dabiq/access to Dabiq to ISIL a blow has been struck directly to the heart of the raison d’être of ISIL’s theology and doctrine! The Information Operations and PSYOPS significance of this achievement is very, very important in the Syrian side of the fight against ISIL.

A Note On Tom’s Post: The Strategering of Mosul

I want to just add a strategic note to Tom’ post from earlier today. There are actually several very good strategic reasons to publicize the upcoming Mosul campaign even as the official start day is not announced. The first is to actually use the Information(al) element of National Power to pressure ISIL to abandon Mosul rather than suffer the types of battlefield defeat that it did in Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq and in parts of Syria where the US led Coalition is attriting ISIL’s hold on actual territory. One of the first positive effects we’re trying to achieve is to get a team of engineers, under Coalition protection, on site to shore up at the Mosul Dam full time before the rainy season starts as we move into Autumn. The sooner, and the easier it is to get the engineers on site full time the better. If the Mosul Dam goes, there is going to be a tremendous complication added to the Coalition’s efforts in the region in terms of having to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster management coupled with an increased flow of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) within Iraq and the impact on Iraqi agriculture, which is still not back to what it was prior to the 2003 invasion. This will be much easier if we don’t have to fight our way to the dam or if we don’t have to worry about ISIL blowing the damn to cover their retreat and complicate Coalition operations.

The second reason to use the publicity about an impending attack, to leverage Information Power, to achieve the theater strategic objective is to ramp up the PSYOPS component of the potential attack. ISIL’s leadership is not stupid – they know an attack is coming to dig them out of Mosul. As a result they have to get their fighters on site in position and ready to fight. Sitting, day in and day out, waiting for an attack to come that doesn’t occur that day, even when everyone knows that the attack is, eventually, going to happen, saps morale. You can only keep troops mentally focused for an upcoming fight for a limited amount of time before they start to loose their focus. Every day that we make clear that the fight is going to come, that the force applied will be overwhelming for the ISIL fighters trying to hold the city, and nothing happens that day, is a day that ISIL’s fighters have spent mental focus waiting for an attack that will, but has not yet, come.

It is also important to leverage this psychological pressure created by knowing the fight is coming, but not when, to try to avoid what has happened in the campaigns to liberate Fallujah and Ramadi: ISIL’s almost complete destruction of these cities, the creation of tens of thousands of new IDPs and refugees, and the humanitarian crises that result. There wasn’t a lot left of Ramadi after its liberation as one of the Iraqi Special Forces officers stated after ISIL had been pushed out:

“All they leave is rubble,” pronounced Maj. Mohammed Hussein, whose counterterrorism corps was one of a initial to pierce into Ramadi. “You can’t do anything with rubble.”

As a result of what we’ve learned from the campaigns to liberate Fallujah and Ramadi, the less actual fighting that has to take place to retake Mosul the better it will be for the city and its residents. So anything we can do to make it harder for ISIL to actually fight works to our advantage.

There are also two very important reasons rooted within Iraq’s socio-cultural context. The first is that by making it clear that Coalition backed and supported Iraqi regular and irregular forces are going to bring overwhelming force to liberate Mosul, we are also leveraging Information Power to keep our Iraqi allies focused on their upcoming task. A repeated problem that was encountered by US and Coalition Forces going back to 2004 was that it was often hard to get the Iraqis to show up, and if they did show up to actually fight. There were several reasons for this. For instance, in Anbar Province in 2005-2006 we had lined up Sunni tribal fighters to be trained to fight with Coalition Forces against al Qaeda in Iraq. However, there was a logistical delay getting these local forces to the training site. During that delay their villages had been hit by al Qaeda in Iraq and as a result our potential new local allies decided they had to go home and protect their kin. As a result we lost an opportunity to build a more cohesive, local irregular force to work with throughout the region.

At other times we’ve spent a lot of time and money working with and training Iraqi Security Forces who, while they did fine in practice, would balk when the time came for them to apply force for real. I watched this personally one week in 2008 when I was working with my brigade’s Military Training Team (MiTT). Reports came in the night we arrived to embed with the MiTT of an attack on some Iraqis. The MiTT leader tried to get the Iraqi Army battalion commander he was working with to respond, but he wouldn’t. The next morning, however, we quickly had to gear up and get on the road to follow this Iraqi Army battalion as they rushed from their base to the middle of nowhere to see what had happened – 14 hours after the attack was reported. What you’re seeing in the US led Coalition’s publicizing the upcoming campaign to liberate Mosul is an attempt to use the other edge of Information Power to keep our Iraqi allies focused and ensure that when the day comes to begin that offensive they are ready and able to do so. I can not emphasize enough the damage that Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical government did to Iraqi confidence in their ability to accomplish things as Iraqis, especially military operations. A great deal of our partnering, advising, training, and assisting has been not just teaching the how of soldiering or policing, but also the less tangible and harder to inculcate why to do so – including building morale and esprit de corps.

Finally, the last reason to publicize the upcoming campaign to liberate Mosul is related to the need to keep the Iraqi Security Forces and irregular forces on actually going through with the campaign. As you can see in the map images below, Mosul is very close to the areas that are currently part of the autonomous areas of Iraqi Kurdistan (the Kurdish Autonomous Area). And Mosul is an ethnically mixed city – it has both Sunni Arabs and (Sunni) Kurds living together in proximity. If you look at Map 1, you can see where the Iraqi Kurds were able to extend their lines by the end of 2013/beginning of 2014.


(Map 1: Areas Under Kurdish Control 2013)

As you can see in Map 1, by the late Winter of 2014 the Iraqi Kurds had extended their lines beyond Iraqi Kurdistan to the areas of Iraq that the Iraqi Kurds have claimed, and want added to Iraqi Kurdistan. Most important among these is the city and province of Kirkuk, but Mosul is also historically important for the Iraqi Kurds. Map 2, below, shows the distribution of Iraqi Kurds as an ethnic group in Northeastern Iraq and the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan.


(Map 2: Ethnic-Religious Map of Iraq)

Mosul and Tikrit are contested areas between Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds. In 2008 I was told repeatedly by both Sunni and Shi’a tribal and religious leaders (sheikhs and imams) across Central Iraq that the one thing that would definitely make Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’a Arabs cooperate was if the Iraqi Kurds took Kirkuk. Now this was in the 2008 context as opposed to the 2013-2014 context of the Iraqi Peshmerga fighting against ISIL and establishing their forward lines at the farthest points out from Iraqi Kurdistan that they could hold territory against ISIL. However, the Government of Iraq is dominated by Arabs not Kurds. As are the Iraqi Security Forces, though a significant portion of the Iraqi Army is made up of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga. So here too we are trying to leverage Information Power to keep the pressure on the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces to go and liberate a city that is ethnically mixed and that is contested between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds. The intention here is to ensure that Iraqi Arab regular and irregular forces show up and fight to liberate a city that may wind up under Kurdish control in the future. This is not necessarily an easy task, so leveraging Information Power to ensure the campaign actually happens is important.

It is this strategic nuance of National Power (Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic/the DIME), and how to leverage it that neither Donald Trump nor his advisors seem to understand. Moreover, it demonstrates a lack of understand of the theater strategic contexts in which US and Coalition Forces are working in Iraq. We already have a real world/real time example of what happens when the strategic regional context is not taken into before a major operation is undertaken in the Levant: the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. While the element of surprise may be tactically important, the strategic ability to leverage Information Power to one’s advantage is also a very important tool that should be used whenever possible.

Late Night Sideshow Open Thread: Colin Powell, Latest Victim of the ‘Trump Touch’

Gormless Midwestern bigot-politicians, anti-immigrant immigrant spokespersons, Mexican finance ministers — nobody who gets close to Donald Trump comes away without reputational damage. It’s like the Midas Touch, but in reverse!

Colin Powell has become another victim of the Trump Touch. Ever since garnering favorable attention from the Right People for his strong defense of William Calley, Gen. Powell has made a nice second career working the “We’re not racist, we just gave this reassuringly deep-voiced Black guy a six-figure sum to speak nicely to us” circuit. Not even his “aluminum tubes” stint shilling for Dubya’s Excellent Iraq Adventure could ding his reputation… maybe a few DFHs complained, but phhtb, hippies. Powell even made friends with Hillary Clinton, as they crossed paths while she was doing her own “We’re not vampire squids, we just gave this Democrat lady a six-figure sum” memoirs & speaking tours, and was kind enough to give her some advice about keeping her emails private.

But then Donald Effing Trump decided to get off the running-for-president pot, the Russian apparatchiks got busy in his support, and next thing you know, “Leaked Emails Reveal That Colin Powell, A 79-Year-Old Black Man, Acts Exactly Like Every 79-Year-Old Black Man*. Very funny, VSB! Now Colin Powell is just another joke-target on the internets!

The Washington Post reports:

Donald Trump is “a national disgrace and an international pariah” who gave voice to a “racist” movement to question President Obama’s citizenship, former secretary of state Colin L. Powell tapped on his keyboard.

Hillary Clinton, he typed in an email to another friend, is a “greedy, not transformational” figure who messes up everything she touches because of her “hubris” and has a husband still, well, entertaining “bimbos” while she is away.

Former vice president Richard B. Cheney and his daughter are “idiots” flacking their new book, and the Iraq War was mishandled from the get-go by the Defense Department’s top officials.

Other than that, the retired general and statesman wrote in one exchange, “alls well with the Powells.”
Read more

Trump is a Goddamned moron, and has no honor.

But you already knew that.
Here’s where it matters.

Read more

Thursday Morning Open Thread: Objectively Pro-HRClinton

This ad came out before last night’s Matt Lauer Trump-orgy. I assume it’s in heavy media rotation in the states where it will do the most good, but hey — those of you on Facebook / Twitter / SnapPeriwhatever, remember: Sharing Is Caring!

Speaking of the #CICForumDebacle...

Priebus is (deservedly) taking a lot of social-media stick for this, but so far my personal favorite:

Apart from endless relitigation, what’s on the agenda for the day?

The Actual Worst Part of the Forum For Me

There were a lot of really awful things that came out of Trump’s mouth tonight, including the reiteration of the correctness of this tweet:

“What did you guys expect? Our guys are rapists, amirite? Our military men have no self control!” Just disgusting.

But for me, the absolute worst moment of the night was this:

LAUER: Sir, thank you. Thank you very much for your question. Secretary Clinton, let’s talk about your vote in favor of the war in Iraq. You’ve since said it was a mistake.

CLINTON: Mm-hmm.

LAUER: Obviously, it was not something you said you would do again. I asked before for people to raise their hand if you served in Iraq. Can you do it again? How do you think these people feel when the person running to be their commander-in-chief says her vote to go to war in Iraq was a mistake?

When he asked how many of them would do it again, the camera panned to them, and they all had their hands raised.

BECAUSE OF COURSE THEY FUCKING DID. Had I been in there I would have raised my hand, too. These guys and gals are professional soldiers. They aren’t there to judge the worth or merit of the missions they are sent on, they are there to carry them out. And they do. He was trying to use the ingrained sense of duty of our vets as a weapon against Hillary.

It was disgusting.

Commander In Chief Forum

As most everyone knows by now NBC/MSNBC is hosting and The Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran’s of America is sponsoring a Commander in Chief Forum tonight at 8 PM EDT. Aside from the fact that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are running for President, of which one of the enumerated Constitutional duties is to be Commander in Chief of the Army, Navy, the militias of the several states, etc., it is named what it is named. It will be in a town hall format, so questions from the audience to each candidate. And each candidate will be on separately. Secretary Clinton will be going first as her representative lost the coin toss. Apparently both candidates wanted to go second, so they did a coin toss. Because IAVA is sponsoring the bulk of the attendees, and the questions from them, will be from veterans, those currently serving, and their family members. Here’s a link to a live stream at WBAL TV 11 in Baltimore. You can also go to the IAVA link above and access a live feed there or just tune to NBC or MSNBC.