U.S. troops will not serve in a combat role alongside the nearly 80,000 Iraqi troops advancing on the Islamic State held city of Mosul.
The Obama administration’s strategy instead focuses on training and advising the Iraqi Security Forces, while providing support to the military from the air. The extent of the U.S. ground force is made up of two or three hundred U.S. special operators, who are embedded with the Iraqi Security Forces or Kurdish Peshmerga.
“Most of the American forces in Iraq are not anywhere close to the front line,” Pentagon Spokesman Peter Cook told reporters Monday. Cook continued, “They’re in a position where they’re providing advice in, obviously, a combat environment.”
The battle for Mosul is a major test of President Barack Obama’s Anti-ISIS strategy in Iraq. The administration has defined success against ISIS by measuring the territory seized by the Iraqi Security Forces. Pentagon officials however warned reporters before the operation began that ISIS was likely to convert to insurgency after losing the city of Mosul. “If anything, it’s gonna be more difficult,” is how Canadian Army Brig. Gen. Dave Anderson described the coming fight against ISIS as an insurgent force.
“It’s as if we’ve decided by taking territory back, they won’t be terrorists anymore,” Dr. Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute previously told The Daily Caller News Foundation. The U.S. has not emphasized what efforts it will take to ensure ISIS does not rise again after Mosul is retaken, beyond plans for a counterinsurgency program for Iraqi soldiers.
After Iranian-backed Shiite militias helped seize the city of Ramadi, humanitarian organizations noted several human rights abuses. Sectarian killing in Mosul could destabilize the city and increase sympathy for Sunni extremist organizations like ISIS.
Failure to stabilize post-ISIS Iraq could lead to the rise of another version of ISIS, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus warned in August. “The challenge of Mosul and Nineveh is the considerable number of ethnic groups, religious sects, tribes and other elements that make up the province.”
Ultimately, the biggest challenge in Iraq is not the defeat of ISIS, but is “to ensure post-conflict security, reconstruction and, above all, governance that is representative of and responsive to the people,” Petraeus warns. “Failure to do so could lead to ISIS 3.0.”
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