Should US infantry be sent back to Iraq to fight ISIL?

Bringing in US ground forces to pacify the population and control the insurgent spread is probably not the best choice for Iraq.


There does need to be ground troops present to fill the political vacuum in the region. Aerial strikes aren’t enough to solve the problem of Islamist saturation. In a recent report by the Guardian, Syrian Kurdish fighters are saying that the air strikes are not currently effective enough. The article states that the strikes being implemented by the US, UK, France, and Arab allies aren’t able to interrupt ISIL operations enough to prevent them from taking over the town of Kobani, a city bordering Syria and Turkey.

“Air strikes alone are really not enough to defeat Isis in Kobani,” said Idris Nassan, a senior spokesman for the Kurdish fighters desperately trying to defend the important strategic redoubt from the advancing militants. “They are besieging the city on three sides, and fighter jets simply cannot hit each and every Isis fighter on the ground.”

What the Kurdish Peshmerga have said, is that the ISIL forces are simply too numerous and spread out too much for the aerial strikes to have a meaningful effect. Nassan continues by describing how ISIL insurgents are evolving their techniques to react to incoming air attacks.

“Each time a jet approaches, they leave their open positions, they scatter and hide.”

Continuing on, Nassan makes the clear point that, in the absence of ground forces, aerial attacks are only a deterrent or a distraction.

“What we really need is ground support. We need heavy weapons and ammunition in order to fend them off and defeat them.”

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc

Militarily speaking, fortified ISIL locations are being destroyed and they are losing men and materiel. More importantly, key strategic points in the ISIL logistics network are being taken down, weakening all other offensive capabilities. The problem is that there is not adequate ground forces covering the advance. If, in all other locations around the city ISIL is able to continue their advance, even creeping at a house an hour, those destroyed defensive locations are not going to mean much, as they would eventually move well behind the effective lines of battle. Without a follow-on force to retake the ground that ISIL temporarily lost, they will be able to return. The situation for the Syrian Kurds in Kobani is now getting desperate. Some reports have shown that a Kurdish fighting woman suicide bombed near a group of ISIL fighters. Use of such tactics shows the extent of the desperation, that Kobani defense fighters have accepted a certain degree numerical casualties, but that they are willing to make the sacrifice if they believe they can guarantee a certain level of Islamist fatalities. While grim, this tactic also doesn’t solve the problem of not enough men to occupy the town. While suicide bombing does provide a high level of killing power, it also robs the defenders of one more person capable of retaking the city later. Saturation of infantry forces is key to retake, occupy, and defend the city currently under siege and ensure a prolonged counter-insurgency victory.

There are, however, troops in the region which can already provide that level of support.  Not that anyone wants to really accept this part, but the Syrians are there, too, namely, Assad’s forces along with the Free Syrian Army. The problem here is that, while there is actually a surplus of fighters in Syria, the intricate web of alliances and enemies makes it advantageous for most involved to let each handle ISIL in their own territory. Quite honestly, they are behooved to see ISIL gains in other territories as it will mean a weakened enemy for them later. For that reason, good fighters, such as the Syrian Peshmerga don’t have adequate support from numerically larger forces, such as the Free Syrian Army, or Assad’s government, nor do troops in the FSA benefit from Kurdish training, experience, and international resources. Together, their combined infantry would not suffer ISIL resistance long, the poltical make up of the groups, however, almost guarantee this to be an impossibility.

Focusing again on Iraq specifically, they are the Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga. These troops need to be trained up, armed, and more importantly, in the case of the Iraqi Special Forces, freed up politically to fight. There are pockets of great fighters in Iraq, namely those Iraqi Special Forces, which were originally pulled from the greatest and most experienced troops in the Iraqi military specifically trained for the role of countering insurgency. These forces have been made the private security for Iraqi political elite and kept away from the roles they were designed to do. If you want to understand the failures of the Iraqi military, look at how the ISF has been used for the last three years. Beyond just the ISF, the Iraqi military still outnumbers anything that ISIL might be able to field by at least 20:1 within Iraq. Point in that situation is that there is not a deficit of capable troops. What is lacking is political will and direction to use them.

For that reason, there really isn’t a reason for a massive deployment of American combat troops in Iraq. There is just a need for some sort of direction and capability in leadership for the offensives to take place between the troops of Iraq. Secondly, the American military presence will only do more harm down the road. After ISIL is taken care of, if ever, then it will turn into another occupation where Iraq’s people will go right back to hating us for all the evils we brought down upon them. Next, it will only continue the practice of allowing Iraq to continue on perpetually neutered. The country needs to stand on its own. It needs to feel independent. It will never do that if some foreign force continues to dictate their day to day life as has been the case for centuries. They need to believe in themselves, as a nation, and be the crucial leader in solving this problem… their problem. Lastly, the Americans shouldn’t have a direct ground presence because to do so will only bring back those old whispers of “American Imperialism.” So that I am clear, we didn’t leave Iraq on our own terms. We were asked to leave by the same Iraqi democracy we set out to build. One gets what one asks for, but the point is that when asked to leave, the Americans did leave. We never took Iraq from the Iraqi, but when we could have kept it, we left it alone and in the care of those same Iraqi. In that moment when the last truck rolled over the border into Kuwait it said to the world that we are not the imperialistic dictators that others have made us out to be, especially those living in Iraq. To send troops back in, especially on a permanent basis, would damage that message throughout the world.

That isn’t to say the US should do nothing. Strategic bombing is doing a good job of collapsing vital points in the ISIL military framework. They are being pushed back and recent acts of violence are proving their desperation. More so than that, there is a major land force being deployed to the region. The US Marine Corps has already began deployments in the creation of a new rapid defense force which was invited to be stationed in Kuwait, not Iraq or Syria.

The US Marine Corps is preparing to deploy about 2,100 grunts to be based out of Kuwait in a new unit configuration designed to respond to crises in the region, according to Corps officials.

Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) Central Command will be equipped to perform noncombat evacuation, humanitarian assistance, infrastructure support, tactical aircraft recovery, fixed-site security and theater sustainment missions, said Brig. Gen. John Love, assistant deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations.

The report obtained by The Associated Press in advance of [June 19, 2012] release provided precise numbers on U.S. forces in Kuwait, a presence that Pentagon officials have only acknowledged on condition of anonymity. Currently, there are about 15,000 U.S. forces in Kuwait at Camp Arifjan, Ali Al Salem Air Base and Camp Buehring, giving the United States staging hubs, training ranges and locations to provide logistical support. The report said the number of troops is likely to drop to 13,500.

Along with this, another 1,500 Marines are being sent into Iraq to join others present there already to protect strategic assets owned by the United States, such as American owned industry assets and embassy locations, as well as to train the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces.

Given these initiatives, I feel that the American presence is good thing. It is toned back from the last decade, but lighter and faster to be more prepared to handle future situations far more easily than was the capabilities over the last six months. Situations like what is happening in Iraq right now, can be handled in much earlier stages, without the need for massive deployments, A political breakdown in the nation won’t leave Americans without aid, such as in Benghazi, and new threats can be challenged as they arise throughout the region. Given all that, they won’t be able to fully occupy anything. The task force simply isn’t that large. It will be able to project force and react quickly, but it will take the local nations to take charge of their own futures.

Keeping the American ground forces in the background of the current Iraq conflict is, in my opinion, a good thing. Having them as a final wall against the encroachment of ISIL threats forces the impetus of action on the local national forces. Building a strong and independent Iraq should have been achieved before we were asked to leave. The blame there goes both on our own governmental failings as much as it falls on the Iraqi. Allowing themselves to become so structurally weak and impotent, while being also so arrogant as to dismiss coalition forces in the first place had a very major role in the circumstances that we have arrived at today. Bringing in several regiments of American military infantry support to clean up the mess won’t, however, do anything to solve the long term problems of this new war. For that, the local infantry capable forces are going to need to band together and prepare an offensive and coordinated strategy to end this threat.


Further Reading:

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