14 years of war, no end in sight

U.S. soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division board an aircraft at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, before deploying to Afghanistan Nov. 28, 2011. More than 3,500 soldiers deployed from the base. DoD photo by Senior Airman Christopher Gross, U.S. Air Force

President Barack Obama faced backlash last week as he ordered an additional 1,500 U.S. troops to Iraq.  Their mission: to strengthen the performance of Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in ground combat through training and strategic support.

According to the Navy Times, about 50 U.S. troops have already been deployed to Al-Asad Air Base.  Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said they are assessing whether or not U.S. advisers can use the installation to support the Iraqi military initiative.

Obama’s order to double U.S. troop levels in Iraq further strained his pledge against “boots on the ground.”  The command did not come easily but he deemed it as necessary.  Even though the Iraqi government has made recent strides, it came close to collapse last June when ISIS overran several parts of Iraq.

The Guardian reported that the Pentagon said the training is expected to last the better part of a year, raising questions about when the Iraqis will be able to take the territory away from ISIS.  Meanwhile, U.S. warplanes will continue their bombardment of ISIS targets from the air.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, said coalition partners will send “over 700” of their own troops to join the training and equipping of the Iraqi and Kurdish forces. Thus far, Denmark and Australia are contributing nations.  Earlier this week, the UK government announced it would also deploy military personnel to train the Iraqis.

Obama stated at a recent conference, “As we are setting up that up, I am having conversations with other coalition partners that are already committed to putting trainers in to see how they can supplement and work with us in this overall effort.”

Sky News reported that State Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed collaboration with the U.S. by announcing that Australian troops are heading into Iraq to advise and assist the Iraqi military in its battle against the Islamic State.  Two hundred troops from Australia have been waiting for direction from the Iraqi government since being deployed to the Middle East in September.

According to FOX News, the price tag on the President’s funding request to fight ISIS is an additional $5.6 billion, which will sustain airstrikes and associated logistics. Budget Director Shaun Donovan said $1.6 billion will be allocated as a “train and equip fund” for Iraqi and Kurdish units to allow them to “go on the offensive.” An additional $3.4 billion will be used “to support ongoing operations” including military advisers, intelligence collection and ammunition. The remaining funds would go to the State Department to support diplomacy and to provide aid to neighbouring countries, which includes Lebanon and Jordan.

The request for additional funding could turn into a long, drawn out and difficult battle on Capitol Hill as some do not approve of the President’s strategy to degrade and defeat ISIS.  Without approval for the funds, Obama’s announcement may have been in vain for without it, deployment of additional troops to Iraq will be hindered.
Sen. John McCain commented, “ISIS covers both Syria and Iraq and has one war in one part of that caliphate that they’ve established and another kind of strategy in another one. It just doesn’t work.”
Meanwhile, ABC News reported that Iraqi forces battling the ISIS recaptured most of the town of Beiji, home to the country’s largest oil refinery.

The strategic town, less than 200 miles from Baghdad, will likely be a base for a future push to take back the town of Tikrit, overrun by the extremists last summer. However, troops backed by Shiite militias encountered areas of stiff resistance around Beiji, hampering their advancement efforts.

According to CBS News, there was no report on the fate of the refinery, but the advances in the town could help break the five-month siege of the facility by ISIS. Since June, a small army unit inside the refinery, receiving supplies and support by air, had successfully resisted continual extremist assaults.

Hours after news about Beiji broke, a suicide bomber crashed his explosives-laden vehicle into a military outpost in the Tarmiyah district north of Baghdad.  According to officials, seven soldiers were killed and 13 others wounded.  The fatally killed included the post’s commander, a major, and two other officers, a captain and lieutenant.  So far, no specific group has taken credit for the attack.

Top army commander in Beiji, Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi was quoted as saying troops recaptured Beiji’s local government and police headquarters at the center of the town. However, when he spoke again later by telephone to the press, the call was cut off after he appeared to be saying his forces were meeting stiff resistance.  Military officials later stated advancing troops were being hindered by ambushes and booby-traps.

CBS News reported Iraq’s army and security forces have been able to partially regroup after melting away in the face of the summer’s ISIS offensive. In recent weeks, they recaptured a string of small towns and villages.  Taking back Beiji would be strategically significant in the long campaign of attrition against the group.

Recapturing Beiji would also be a major boost for Iraq’s Shiite-led government. Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition have aided Iraqi forces, militias and armed Kurdish fighters combatting Islamic State militants. In addition to the continued airstrikes, hundreds of U.S. advisers and trainers have been working with the Iraqis.

After 14 years, the battle in Iraq has taken the face of a never-ending war.

Until now, the highest point of conflict in the Iraq War has been considered Operation Phantom Fury, a joint American, Iraqi, and British offensive.  In the winter of 2004, the U.S. Marine Corps led the coalition against the Iraqi insurgency stronghold in the city of Fallujah.  Last week, 07NOV2014, marked the ten year anniversary of the infamous second “battle of Fallujah.”  The U.S. military has since stated that it had “some of the heaviest urban combat” that the U.S. Marines had experienced since the Battle of Hue’ City in Vietnam in 1968.

Earlier that year, coalition forces had fought insurgents in order to capture or kill the group responsible for the killing of the Blackwater Security team.  With the battle located in the center of the city, the Iraqi government transferred control of the city to an Iraqi-run local security force.  They stockpiled weapons and built complex defenses across the city.  At that time, the battle was considered the bloodiest of the entire Iraq war.

In 2006, the U.S. military partnered with Sunni tribes in the Anbar province to fight al-Qaida. Combined with a surge of U.S. troops in 2007, the Sunni “Awakening” movement conquered forces of al-Qaida in western Iraq.

But under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi government failed to incorporate the Sunnis into the Iraqi military and police. Once U.S. troops left Iraq in December 2001, Maliki, a Shiite, launched an overtly anti-Sunni campaign. This provided an opening for the Islamic State to follow in al-Qaida’s footsteps.

These incidents, along with many other elements, have led the U.S. to where it is today, back in a war that has never truly ended.  Only time will tell if the addition of more troops in Iraq will be enough to end the battle or will this endless war only make way for another conflict.

Staff Writer © PopularMilitary.com

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