Friday, December 16, 2016

ISIL Has Lost 50,000 Troops

As news comes out of Syria of the horrifying conditions in Aleppo and the tragically ineffective policies pursued by the Obama administration, it might be more encouraging to turn to the war against Islamic terrorism waged against ISIL. On this front there is better news:
At least 75% of ISIS fighters have been killed during the campaign of US-led airstrikes. The campaign has winnowed ISIS' ranks to between 12,000 and 15,000 "battle ready" fighters, a top US official said on Tuesday.

The figures mean the US and its coalition partners have taken out vastly more ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria than currently remain on the battlefield, two years since the bombing campaign began. Last week a US official said the coalition had killed 50,000 militants since 2014.

Speaking at the White House Tuesday, Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, said the terror group is no longer able to replenish its ranks, predicting the number of fighters would continue to dwindle.

"The number of battle-ready fighters inside Iraq and Syria is now at its lowest point that it's ever been," McGurk said, describing the update he gave the President to reporters after the meeting. He noted that the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS had been stemmed by tighter surveillance and border controls.

The air campaign, led by the US and begun in 2014, has conducted 17,000 strikes against ISIS targets, McGurk said. The vast majority were conduced by US planes; only 4,500 were carried out by other members of the coalition.

The most recent targets included three ISIS leaders the US says were responsible for planning attacks in Paris and Brussels last year. They were taken out in Raqqa, ISIS' self-described capital in Syria.
There are believed to be about 3000 ISIL troops still holding out in Mosul which is under seige by the Iraqi army, most of whom will likely fight to the death. Here's an account from Strategy Page which explains why retaking Mosul is such a difficult task for the Iraqis:
December 13, 2016: After eight weeks the battle for Mosul has driven ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) forces from most of the city east of the Tigris River. It is slow going because, as was already known (from refugees and deserters) ISIL had planted thousands of mines and booby-traps and dug many kilometers of tunnels that allowed ISIL fighters to shift forces and supplies without risking an air or ground attack.

All this was taken into taken into account before the operation to take Mosul began on October 17th. What was unknown was how well the largely untested attack force would perform under this sort of relentless urban warfare. As far back as World War II it was known that taking a defended city usually meant it would take longer than expected and even if the attackers were superior in numbers and training they would lose as many men as the defenders.

In Mosul the attack force is losing a bit more than the defenders, in part because many of the attackers are Shia militia, who are more fanatic than disciplined and effective. The Iraqi special operations troops and most of the Kurds are more experienced and the other Iraqi army troops are somewhere in between. The situation is further complicated by the nature of the enemy, which is largely a force of men prepared to die fighting and have no problems using civilians as human shields and employing tactic to kill or delay the advance.

ISIL had over two years to prepare their defenses and even though the attackers have maps showing many of these defenses and mined areas they don’t know where all of this stuff is and it’s what you don’t know that will get you killed. While ISIL has lost over a third of their defending force in two months of combat, the attackers (about 20,000 on or near the front line and four times as many in support) suffered about ten percent losses (dead, missing, disabled and deserters) so far. The attackers keep their casualties down by using artillery and airstrikes as much as possible and advancing carefully. That slows things down and requires a lot of ammunition and expensive aerial operations. Meanwhile there are apparently some 3,000 ISIL men still in the city.
There's more on the Mosul operation at the link. President Obama, at least according to many of his critics, made three terrible blunders in the region.

1. His decision to announce the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and the subsequent withdrawal left a vacuum there that ISIL easily filled and has consequently cost tens of thousands of innocent lives.

2. His decision to threaten Syrian president Assad with severe consequences should he use chemical weapons on his own people - the so-called "red line" - was a huge mistake if Mr. Obama had no intention of backing it up, which he didn't.

3. The failure to impose a no-fly zone in Syria early on before the Russians got involved on Assad's behalf. It was possible early in the civil war to save thousands of lives by preventing Syria's air force from bombing civilians and even destroying their aircraft on the ground if need be. Mr. Obama chose to do nothing and the carnage and loss of American prestige and influence as a result has been incalculable.