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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.

The Maskirovka Slips


(Maskirovka Principles)

Newsweek‘s Kurt Eichenwald has just broken a story pertaining to Russian Intelligence’s hacking, forging, and/or altering documents to influence the US election in collusion with Wikileaks.

Of course, this might be seen as just an opportunity to laugh at the incompetence of the Russian hackers and government press—once they realized their error, Sputniktook the article down. But this is not funny at all. The Russians have been obtaining American emails and now are presenting complete misrepresentations of them—falsifying them—in hopes of setting off a cascade of events that might change the outcome of the presidential election. The big question, of course, is why are the Russians working so hard to damage Clinton and, in the process, aid Donald Trump. That is a topic for another time.

For now, though, Americans should be outraged. This totalitarian regime, engaged in what are arguably war crimes in Syria to protect their government puppet, is working to upend a democracy to the benefit of an American candidate who uttered positive comments just Sunday about the Kremlin’s campaign on behalf of Bashar al-Assad. Trump’s arguments were an incomprehensible explication of the complex Syrian situation, which put him right on the side of the Iranians and Syrians who are fighting to preserve the government that is the primary conduit of weapons used against Israel.

So no, Mr. Putin, I’m not Sidney Blumenthal. And now that you have been exposed once again, get the hell out of our election.

As I wrote back in July, we are in a cyber war, which is part of the new cold war that we find ourselves in.

I’ll have more on some of the current US-Russia impasse (hopefully) in regard to Aleppo tomorrow.

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.

Syrian Ceasefire

The US and Russia have agreed to a ceasefire to go into effect on Monday, the first day of Eid. The Syrian Governmental Forces will cease operations in certain opposition areas and the US and Russia will stand up a joint multinational center to combat the Islamic State and the Nusra Front. The joint center will be for deconfliction – of targets and of US led coalition and Russian backed efforts.

It is important that diplomatic efforts are being made, partially because you can’t only use military power. You have to be able to bring all elements of National power – Diplomatic, Information(al), Military, and Economic (DIME) power – into play blending and balancing them to achieve one’s goals. That said I’m not exactly sanguine that this will be effective. There are a lot of moving parts to the agreement, including the Syrian government’s cooperation, as well as Syria’s other allies such as Iran and its proxies. And, of course, the enemy gets a vote. If the Islamic State, the Nusra Front, or both of them together decide to step up attacks because of the ceasefire and in an attempt to exploit it, it will increase the pressure on this fragile diplomatic effort. My view of the Syrian Civil War since I first started working on the problem set in 2013 is that it was very similar to the Thirty Years War, even as that conflict was not a perfect historical analogue.

Given what has been going on in the presidential campaign, especially during the past week, there may be some other things going on with this agreement. While Secretary Kerry has a lot of control over US diplomacy and diplomatic policy, he wouldn’t be pursuing this without President Obama signing off on it. If the Russians are unable to maintain discipline over their coalition – the Syrian government and its Iranian allies and proxies, much hay will be made over how you can’t trust or rely on the Russians (and by extension Vladimir Putin) because they can’t deliver on their promises. If the US’s local proxies – the Syrian Defense Forces (SDY) and/or the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG) don’t observe the ceasefire, then it will raise questions about the US and its Coalition allies ability to control their local proxies. Because of how the US presidential campaign has gone the Syrian Civil War is no longer about who will run and control Syria, be considered to be Syrian or not Syrian, and a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is now also a proxy part of the US presidential election.

Breaking News: Abu Muhammed al Adnani is Dead


(Abu Muhammed al Adnani*)

Abu Muhammed al Adnani (real name: Taha Subhi Falaha), the number 2 man within the Islamic State and its commander for special operations (terrorist operations outside of the declared caliphate, recruitment, social media, and communications), is dead. It is being reported that al Adnani was killed in Aleppo earlier today and had been targeted by the US military led coalition forces in a precision strike near the town of al Bab. Here is CENTCOM’s release of the coalition strikes in Syria for today, as well as the past several days. Al Bab is not mentioned, but that may just mean it will be in tomorrow’s press release on coalition strikes. Expect the information on this to solidify over the next 24 to 48 hours. We’ll also see what this does to the Islamic State’s operational capabilities, especially those outside of the self declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

* Image found here.

Open Thread: Donald Trump NEVER Misspeaks!!! (ISIS Edition)

But sometimes us LESSER INTELLECTS fail to comprehend his SARCASM. Bigly!

Rough timeline…

Donald Trump said Thursday that he meant exactly what he said when he called President Barack Obama the “founder of ISIS” and objected when a conservative radio show host tried to clarify the GOP nominee’s position.

Trump was asked by host Hugh Hewitt about the comments Trump made Wednesday night in Florida, and Hewitt said he understood Trump to mean “that he (Obama) created the vacuum, he lost the peace.”

Trump objected.

“No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS,” Trump said. “I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”

Hewitt pushed back again, saying that Obama is “not sympathetic” to ISIS and “hates” and is “trying to kill them.”

“I don’t care,” Trump said, according to a show transcript. “He was the founder. His, the way he got out of Iraq was that that was the founding of ISIS, okay?”
Read more

You May Not Be Interested in Nuclear War, But Nuclear War May Be Interested in You


I wanted to take a moment to highlight that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, while under bombardment by depth charges, the captain of the Soviet Submarine B-59, exhausted and not understanding that the US was trying to get him to surface, not sink him, ordered one of his nuclear armed torpedoes be made ready to fire on the USS Randolph. Captain Savitsky was, fortunately, overruled by the Soviet Submarine Fleet Commander, Captain Vasili Arkhipov, refused to assent to firing the torpedo. Had he not done so the nuclear attack on the USS Randolph, which was leading the US Naval force, would have likely triggered the Single Integrated Operational Plan; America’s strategic plan for responding to a nuclear attack. Had this happened World War III would have begun and lasted only until the nuclear weapons stopped detonating…


I bring this up to remind everyone what others have done all day: nuclear weapons are meant as a deterrent and the stability of the global system has depended on all parties with nuclear weapons doing everything they can to not use them. Had Captain Savitsky – tired, overheated, stressed out from the nature and long hours of his operational assignment below the waters of Cuba – fired his nuclear armed torpedo he would not have been acting on orders from the Kremlin. The submarine fleet on station had been out of touch with their higher headquarters for days, but nuclear war would have started any way. Not because the Soviet leadership decided it was their only viable option left (not that that would have been a good assessment of the situation), but because of the misreading of the tactical environment by one worn out submarine commander. Captain Arkhipov based part of his decision to not authorize the use of a nuclear armed torpedo on the fact that they’d been out of touch with their superiors and had exceedingly limited intelligence and information on what was actually happening on the surface above them.

We don’t always realize that for all the grand strategies and carefully crafted policies that events are all too often out of the control of the people we think are in charge and that we’ve entrusted with the responsibility to make the hard decisions. All too often they are in the hands of the tired, stressed men and women – in diplomatic, military, and other service – at the sharp end just trying to make the best decision out of a range of bad options with incomplete information.

For more on Vice Admiral Arkhipov, the man who saved the world, here’s the link to the documentary about what occurred on Submarine B-59. And the embedded video below.

* Official Photo of Vice Admiral Arkhipov found here.