We’re about to see how successful US troop training has been in Iraq.
Iraqi security forces, trained and backed by the US, are preparing a final assault on the Sunni city of Ramadi, a senior coalition official told Jim Michaels of USA Today.
The newspaper called it “the first significant test of American-trained forces against the Islamic State” terror group (also known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh).
A Pentagon spokeswoman described the operation as “a slow, methodical, deliberate advance on the city” about 80 miles west of Baghdad.
About 10,000 troops, 3,000 of whom were trained by the US, will participate in the operation, according to USA Today. It’s likely that Iraqi forces will outnumber ISIS fighters, but it’s unclear exactly how many militants are in the city.
ISIS forces captured Ramadi in May and the militants have been entrenched in the city, located about 80 miles from Baghdad, since then. Shia militias backed by Iran planned to take back Ramadi soon after the city fell, but ISIS still has a hold on the city.
Ramadi fell after ISIS militants overran the city with suicide car bombs. Even though ISIS was outnumbered by Iraqi soldiers, the Sunni terror group was still able to seize control of the city when troops protecting it fled.
Now that ISIS has spread out throughout Ramadi, it might be hard to rout them.
“Despite being outnumbered, the militants’ defensive posture provides an advantage: They can fire from bunkers and other concealed locations, and it will be difficult for the coalition to bombard the militants, who can hide in an urban setting,” USA Today noted.
The loss of Ramadi to the terrorists has had ripple effects throughout Iraq — many Sunni residents of Ramadi who have tried to flee the city have been turned away as they reach Baghdad, and some Sunnis are reluctantly supporting ISIS for their own survival because they feel like they have run out of other viable options.
Success in Ramadi — and Iraq as a whole — is far from guaranteed.
Michael Knights, an Iraq analyst, wrote in Foreign Policy this week that the war against ISIS in Iraq has been “slowing down.”
“The best that can be reasonably expected in 2015 is the stabilisation of the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah,” Knights wrote. “No one even talks about liberating Iraq’s second-most populous city, Mosul, anymore.
Mosul is a major stronghold for ISIS in Iraq that used to be a top priority for the US’ plan to defeat ISIS.
“At this rate, the United States will still be in Iraq when U.S. President Barack Obama leaves office — an outcome no one, especially the president, wants,” Knights wrote.
With a diminished US presence in Iraq and tight restrictions on what US forces are allowed to do, it will be hard for troops to make quick progress against ISIS. The US train-and-equip program has been slow going and air strikes have had a limited effect because of a lack of spotters on the ground and strict rules of engagement, Knights wrote.
Brookings Institute fellow Charles Lister recently wrote a similarly negative assessment of the war on ISIS. Lister noted that “progress thus far can best be described as a series of loosely linked tactical gains, rather than a significant strategic advance.”
“The stated coalition objective is to ‘degrade and destroy’ IS as a militant organisation, but it remains a potent armed force capable of capturing valuable territory and inflicting considerable material damage on its adversaries,” Lister wrote. “… IS is clearly a determined enemy and poses a potent threat that the current coalition strategy is failing to effectively ‘degrade and defeat.’”