Remember Obama’s no boots on the ground in Iraq pledge?
Forget about it.
“Hundreds of additional U.S. troops have flowed into Iraq during the past week as American and Iraqi forces there begin final preparations to launch an invasion of Mosul this fall,” Military Times reported on Thursday.
The Islamic State has held the Iraqi city for over two years. It is the largest city held by the self-proclaimed caliphate. In 2012 the US Defense Intelligence Agency “predicted” Salafist, Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda in Iraq “insurgents” would establish a “principality” stretching from Mosul and Anbar in western Iraq to Hasaka and Der Zor in eastern Syria.
Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a top spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, declined to say what those troops are doing but said preparations are underway to potentially launch the Mosul invasion this fall.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work going on to set conditions, including the logistics detail that would be required in order to go after Mosul. And then we continue to hammer the enemy with strikes, including both artillery and airstrikes,” Dorrian told reporters Thursday at a press briefing.
The commander of the US-led operation in Iraq, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, told the Wall Street Journal Wednesday the assault could begin within the next month.
In late August the Qayara air base south of Mosul was destroyed by retreating IS fighters. Destruction of the facility raised “new doubts over whether the long-awaited operation will begin this year,” Fox News reported.
Iraqi army commanders stationed at the base say it will take months of reconstruction before it is ready to receive cargo planes and house the tens of thousands of troops needed for the march on Mosul. Their assessments call into question whether Iraq will be able to launch the operation this year, as the prime minister has repeatedly pledged.
Turkey complicated the situation in Iraq in December when it sent a large and heavily armed contingent across the border and occupied a military camp near Mosul. “There are rumors, not confirmed yet, that Turkey now uses the presence of its force to blackmail the Iraqi government. Turkey, it is said, wants agreement from Baghdad for a gas pipeline from Qatar through Iraq to Turkey,” the Moon of Alabama blog noted at the time.
A large-scale offensive with US troops in October or later appears timed to coincide with the US election.
A sequential debate on defense and military affairs staged earlier this week positioned Clinton and Trump as competing hawks on defense and national security.
Donald Trump has positioned himself as a Reaganesque proponent of a significantly expanded military.
If elected, Trump would ask Congress to lift military spending caps, increase defense spending, and seek a plan from generals to counter Islamic State in his first 30 days in office, he said in a speech Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Trump also said he would increase the size of the army to about 540,000, the Marine Corps to 36 battalions, the navy to a number of surface ships and submarines “approaching” 350, and the Air Force to at least 1,200 fighter aircraft.
Trump’s campaign, in a “fact sheet” distributed before the speech, credited the conservative Heritage Foundation, the army chief of staff, and the National Defense Panel as recommending some of the proposals he’s espousing.
The Heritage Foundation advocates “liberating” Mosul from the Islamic State.
“Liberating Mosul from the clutches of ISIS is not the end of the story. ISIS will still have a base on which to fall back in Syria,” write Luke Coffey and James Phillips for the foundation.