Middle East Conflict Update – 20161109

General Dunford in Turkey. DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen, Nov 6, 2016.
General Dunford in Turkey. DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen, Nov 6, 2016.

News on the Middle East 20161109 – Civil war in Syria, U.S. deal with Turkey on fighting ISIS in Syria, SDF announces Raqqa offensive, US Apache Gunships, ‘Hearts and Minds’ of Mosul, counter-drone operations, defining military success in Iraq, and how to deal with the humanitarian crisis after the conquest of Mosul.

U.S. and Turkey Deal on ISIL in Syria. The United States and its “ally” – Turkey – has come to an agreement for a long-range plan to conduct operations against the Islamic State in Syria – specifically it’s Syrian capital of Raqqa. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – General Joe Dunford – met with his Turkish counterpart on November 6, 2016 to coordinate operational planning and resolve some challenging issues. One wonders whether the U.S. is selling out the Kurds while coming to an agreement with the Turks. Hmmm. Read more in “Dunford, Turkish Leaders Create Long-term Plan Against ISIL in Raqqa”U.S. Department of Defense News Release, November 6, 2016.

Syrian Conflict. There are a lot of foreign interests being played out in Syria. The Iranians and Russians are actively fighting ISIS, the Kurds, and the Syrian rebel forces. The U.S. is supporting anti-Assad groups (covert action on the part of the CIA) and anti-ISIS groups (Special Forces assisting the Syrian rebel groups and Kurds). Other Middle East and European nations are siding with the U.S. at the same time that some Middle East nations are covertly aligned with ISIS. Turkey has entered the fight against the Assad regime and ISIS; but many think their main objective is to prevent the emergence of a Kurdish nation-state carved out of northern Syria. The conflict is in its sixth year with no end in sight. So the place is a mess! Read more in Civil War in Syria, Global Conflict Tracker by the Council on Foreign Relations, November 2016.

SDF Announces Raqqa Offensive. The Syrian Democratic Forces has proclaimed the beginning of an offensive to take the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, Syria. There are a lot of moving parts in this equation. Will Kurdish forces occupy the mostly Sunni city? What part will the Turkish Army play? How much support (advisors and air) will the United States offer? Read a statement by SECDEF on the coming Raqqa offensive (DoD Release, Nov 6, 2016). Read also “Turkey Raises Concerns Over Role of Syrian Kurds in Operation to Retake Raqqa”Radio Free Europe, November 8, 2016.

Mosul Aftermath. What happens in Mosul, Iraq once the combined forces of the Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga, and various armed militias take the city from the Islamic State? Who will be the holding force to secure and stabilize the city? Will the Iraqi government rush in enough police and city administrators to properly govern and secure the city? And what about the humanitarian aspects of caring for the many residents who have suffered under the yoke of ISIS? Some estimates say that over 700,000 people will be displaced over the short-term – requiring shelter, food, water, security, and medical care. Senior administration officials of the U.S. Department of State would have you believe that the Mosul post-liberation operation is prepared and well-coordinated. Hmmmm. Read Background Briefing on Humanitarian Response and Preparation for Post-Operational Mosul, U.S. Department of State, November 7, 2016.

US Attack Helicopters Aid Mosul Fight. The Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) has AH-64 Apache gunships supporting Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) for the Mosul offensive. See “US Apache Gunships Back Iraqi Forces in Mosul Offensive”DoDBuzz, November 8, 2016.

Hearts and Minds – Mosul. When ISIS first took the city of Mosul from the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) over two years ago the Sunni population of Mosul welcomed them. However two years of ISIS rule has turned the city’s inhabitants against ISIS and now the ISF are being welcomed as liberators. Read “Winning Hearts and Minds in Mosul”, by Max Boot, Commentary, November 7, 2016.

Next President’s War. In January the new U.S. president will inherent U.S. involvement in several conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia. These countries include Libya, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan. Read more in “This is the War Against al-Qaeda the Next President Will Inherit”Defense One, August 2016.

Counter-Drone Measures. News that the Islamic State is using drones in Iraq has prompted the U.S. military to take active anti-drone measures. Some reports say that the U.S. Air Force is using its assets in the anti-drone fight. Read “The U.S. Military Has Drone-Killing Planes in the Middle East”War Is Boring, November 2016.

Success in Iraq? President Obama’s strategy in Iraq is to roll back ISIS but without the large-scale deployment of ground troops to fight the war. He is relying on U.S. airpower to degrade ISIS and support the Iraqi Security Forces (as well as the Peshmerga) and on the “Train, Advise, and Assist” effort of advisors (SOF and conventional) to professionalize the Iraqi Security  Forces (ISF). To some extent – although slowly – this seems to be working. Read more in “Defining Military Success in Iraq”Defense One, November 3, 2016.

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