“No boots on the ground” has evolved into over 6,000 US troops in Iraq, and pledges that they would play no combat role in the war against ISIS has now given way to US ground troops being deployed on the front lines in Iraq’s largest invasion to date, the ongoing attack on the massive city of Mosul.
The troops are special forces who are being used as “forward air controllers,” and are meant primarily to do targeting for US warplanes that are constantly pounding the city from above. Officially, these troops are still being classified as “non-combat.”
Pentagon officials later insisted that “most” of the troops in Iraq, which again is over 6,000 of them, aren’t on the front lines in Mosul. The ones that are, however, seem like they’ll inevitably end up participating in combat, whether they’re classified that way or not.
The US has been struggling with this classification of troops problem throughout the ISIS war, with Pentagon officials occasionally admitting that troops are engaged in combat in Iraq, but the administration overwhelmingly arguing that they’re not technically in combat roles.
This pretense is always harder to maintain when there are casualties, and despite the Pentagon insisting that officially, nothing has changed with the invasion of Mosul, the indications are that a much larger number of US troops are in front line roles in Mosul than anywhere else in this conflict.
Pentagon officials indicated that the number of troops involved in the air controller position was in the 100-200 range, while an unknown number of others, classified as advisers, remain in the area just behind the front lines.
It’s a virtual given that US forces will be targeted by ISIS forces as the fighting picks up, and this includes those on the bases just behind the front lines. Already, ISIS fired a makeshift chemical weapon at the Qayara base, which is housing large numbers of US troops. Pentagon officials have said more chemical attacks are to be expected.
While in previous instances of US troops in combat in the ISIS conflict have centered on the Obama Administration’s interest in downplaying the risk of American casualties, in this case they also seem very interested in selling the idea that this is an “all Iraqi” operation, and that the US troops are just sort of along for the ride. The hope seems to be that a victory here would give the Iraqi army some credibility which it has lacked throughout the ISIS war, though it might also allow the US to avoid blame if the battle doesn’t go to plan.
11 thoughts on “US Troops on the Front Lines in Iraq’s Mosul Invasion”
Mission Accomplished!! Again! and again….and again….and…..
This Mosul invasion is emblematic of the utter failure of US interventionist, empire building, keep the desert bunnies in line foreign policy
It is a failure of US policy in post-cold war era that relied on easy plucking of low lying fruit — that is, weak countries ready for plucking, and then presumably profit from chaos. But the Hubris created a predicable Nemesis, and the Hubris still does not see what’s the problem. Hillary thinks she can fix it, just not put boots in the ground, only those levitating special ops boots. A fix here, and fix there, threaten a little here — then there. The only sane policy is spelled in Trump’s Foreign Policy Strategy — a document thoroughly ignored and abused. Dangerous times ahead, unless adults in the world step up and deal with realities.
the US troops are just sort of along for the ride…
If anyone believes that crock, I have some prime
California beachfront property in Kansas to sell
at a bargain basement price.
The objective is clear: ‘Secure the oil fields’
from those pesky ISIS, ISIL, IS (terrorists) the
CIA/Pentagon supports with USG taxpayers’ cash.
Yes, this is the objective, seen from the Space Station. But US is acting like a bulldozer — and Kurds, Turks, Baghdad government and Shia militias, a swamp. And in the end, swamp always wins.
And after ISIS we are going to have??? You can bet the Sunni residents of Mosul won’t be keen on a US/Shia Baghdad Gov’t/Turkish occupation of Mosul.
Correct. This is why Baghdad, Peshmerga and others brought in Turkey long time ago. Now, they are “enemies”. A game. Turkey will be there in post-ISIS space, to fill in a vacuum, and provide a security blanket for traumatized Sunni. Same game going on in Syria right now. But wars are the mothers of all unintended consequences, so it is important for US to know exactly the length of its blanket, and not overreach.
The financiers and proponents of this war have literally created a giant Call of Duty game where they play the part of the game developers. Define two sides, give them the tools they need, and a place to do battle; then sit back and profit while people shoot at each other…
The caution expressed in this text is very justified. There is too much triumphalism in the air — almost as if this is in the bag. OK, may not be triumphalism, but the prognosis of a US general that it will take a few weeks, perhaps a bit longer — is a sign that there is an obsession in the administration with relaxing the public opinion, and then find new narratives along the way. Reminds me of a relative, one of those sub-clinical psychopaths. There is always a short-term answer to everything to get others of his back, and then the narrative evolves, always finding a way to enmesh others in the schema and avoid responsibility.
It is also a wrong perception that Iraqi government forces are weak. They suffered at the beginning a string of humiliating losses, but then changed their approach. Before, they were committed exclusively to US intelligence and advice. They ended up being ambushed like rank beginners. They stopped the practice with the attack on Fallujah. I know memories are not long — but let us recall how strenuously US opposed that move. It argued that Iraqi government should just go directly to Mosul. But Fallujah was a center of almost daily attacks being aimed at Baghdad. And by eliminating ISIS from there, the amount of bomb attacks on Baghdad reduced by a huge percentage. Similarly, all other operations against ISIS were done the way Iraq decided. Even though US is there partnering, the truth is, Iraq had to take control of its own decisions. Coming now to Mosul. US demanded that Shia militia stay out of the battle. Baghdad did not agree. The reason Baghdad is adamant, is the deal it cut with the Sunni tribes leaders of the region occupied by ISIS. Under that deal, Sunni tribal leaders do not object to any militia taking part. Second, initially, US even objected to Kurds under Barzani. It is a little known fact, but US in Iraq FAVORS PKK, not Peshmerga. Reason? Peshmerga leader, Barzani , is in complete agreement with Turkey’s Erdogan, and has a friendly relations with Baghdad. Since when did the relationships sour? Since Sinjar. Anybody remembers that early success against ISIS? We went there to liberate Sinjar and return poor Jazidi people back home. In that endeavor, Peshmerga and Iraqi branch of PKK participated with US. It was a great shock to Peshmerga to be told by US to make that PKK victory, and that PKK Kurds are to enter Sinjar FIRST. The bottom line, Sinjar UNTIL TODAY is under PKK control, not returned to Jazidis. The problem US had with Barzani and Peshmerga is that they did not accept the post-conflict solution of creating a separate Kurdistan under US protection. Their idea is to stay within Iraq — and negotiate with Baghdad their autonomy and energy deals. It is easy to see how right now — all the forces there, Baghdad, Peshmerga Kurds, and Turkey — are suspicious of US intentions after liberating Iraq from ISIS.
Another sign of caution — the noisy Baghdad-Turkey spat, and the even noisier Turkish claim on their right to be there. This is not a spat — but a game. Turkey is there because Iraq wanted it. Just as Turkey is now in Syria because both Syria and Russia wanted it. Turkey is solving the insolvable problems that weak governments always have in post-conflict situation, vacuums of power they cannot fix. Turkey is in both countries ready to be the stabilizing force — a party the best suited to calm the fears of Sunni population, and best suited to structure post-conflict governance. This suits Peshmerga Kurds, Baghdad and Shia. That is what neither could do effectively in post-ISIS era. Just like what we see already in Syria, Turkey is rolling back YPG ethnic cleansing along its borders, and making sure there is no connectivity between the two Kurdish regions at the expense of other nationalities. Turkey has to that end basically taken in all the remnants of various militias — former Free Syrian Army initially strong in this region, as well as Turkmen and Assyrians. So, Turkey moved successfully on Dabiq — liberated it, and now getting ready for Al-Bab. it is in fact only 10 miles outside Al-Bab. So, what is a big deal? It is place where US will have to either confront Turkey, or abandon Kurdish state idea. As this is an only still viable connection between the two Rojava regions. The end-game in Syria? Turkey will fill in spaces where US planned to expand Kurds, and will then move closer to the action where the last ISIS stronghold is. It is really conceivable that ISIS from Mosul may be “directed’ to Syria to complicate its final riddance of terrorist groups — but the welcome mat has been prepared both by Turkey and Russian air force. With Turkey filling in the gaps in regions that are depopulated, and with its already aggressive efforts to make people come back home — there will be no marginal areas, unprotected and outside Damascus control. Turkey is not claiming the area, but will stay as long as necessary to get it repopulated and stable. No room for foreign or UN protectorates inside Syria.
I see the same evolving in Iraq. Only, the decibels here are stronger — because Iraq wants the Sunni people to pin their hopes on Turkey for protection. To feel safe from Kurds or Baghdad Shia dominated forces — to feel hopeful that the peace may be real following the demise of ISIS. This is why Turkey is making outlandish statements, and Shia threatening, and Baghdad taking a “strong stand”.
It is merely a game — the same process taking place in Syria. Turkey fills in the vacuum of power, really in agreement with Peshmerga Kurds, who are in agreement with Baghdad. And Sunnis will embrace it — making the Sunni tribal leaders safe in coming back to their regions. Again, this would make it impossible to find a peace of territory where UN or other external power could plant a flag. The process appears to lead to the concept of regional security that excludes others.
And in the light of the concept of regional security, US forces and the leadership need to think carefully what they are all about, and the end-game. US needs good relationship with Baghdad in post-conflict era, but to achieve it, it is important not to be portrayed as a villain in the region, as the old memories of US occupation have not exactly died yet. If the US tries to lead from behind, it will backfire. Baghdad learned its lesson in Fallujah. If it takes a lead, it will backfire. The best outcome would be to support the decisions of Baghdad.
I think that US should have gotten a clue after Baghdad approved of Turkey trained brigade to participate in Mosul action. Baghdad has covered all of its bases, and will patiently move forward militarily, never exceeding the length of its own blanket. And then wait the outcome of what will be a difficult operation. And as things are shaping — like in Syria, US has no deserving minority to protect there — when everything is said and done.
War, war, and war.
No combat troops?
“Forward air controllers” are soldiers who are in FRONT of the front lines. Their job is to call in air strikes on targets and calls in adjustments and tells the pilots where to drop their bombs. To do that they have to be close to the action.
It it’s not a dangerous job why are special forces doing it?
You can call a pig a cow but it’s still a pig.
More lies from the Obama administration because he promised there would no longer be troops in combat.
Just my opinion.
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