Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Islamic State and Iraq

Right, back into action again then.

And a slight change of plan because I might as well cover the Iraq situation now that efforts to provide humanitarian assistance are being ramped up a little. The question on everybody's lips is whether the UK, the US or indeed anyone else should intervene and help the Iraqis out in their fight against ad-Dawlah al-ʾIslāmiyyah, or the Islamic State as we refer to them in the West. 

The spectacular advances of these insurgents has lead many people to believe that to intervene would be to risk bogging the UK, US, or whomever else down into a bloody fight similar to those experienced in places like Basra, Fallujah and Baghdad. At times you'd think from some of the reporting in the major newspapers that IS/ISIS/ISIL/them-buggers-with-AKs-who-used-to-mess-up-Syria, were the resurgence of the third shock army.

The reality is that while the insurgents have paraded a variety of captured equipment in their propaganda videos, they have no training in how to use it. Even if they captured a large supply of spare parts (one hopes - for one is in posh mode - that the Iraqis were indoctrinated into the 'just in time logistics' model by the Americans, which might now prove to be the first useful thing that this system has done) then the insurgents still have no training in how to fix their heavy equipment, and their supply of parts will have a limited life before they run out.

Keeping in mind the struggles that even advanced western forces have (ones with lots of money and supplies) in keeping things like tanks on the road, it's probably fair to say that the insurgents will struggle in this regard. They have no air support. They have no coherent logistic system. In fact, they don't even have a coherent force.

Despite fighting under one banner, the insurgents are not some perfectly aligned group of Jihadists who all think and believe in the same things. Remember that this is the organisation that aligned itself with al-Qaeda, until al-Qaeda decided that actually they weren't so similar after all. 

What instead we have is a group of fighters, some of whom are Iraqis dedicated to the cause, some of whom are Sunni Iraqis dedicated to the cause... right up until they identify the right moment to shove ISIS/ISIL to one side for their own ends, some are foreign fighters hoping that this time the fight for a Caliphate will actually work, and if we're honest some are probably just in it for the money.

The third shock army this is most definitely not.

The entire insurgent force in Iraq, even using some of the more generous estimates, amounts to less than the UK deployed for one six-month tour at the height of Operation Herrick in Afghanistan. And this force has to control an already massive area of western Iraq, far beyond its ability to genuinely lock down and dominate. Further expansion to the east and south only spreads the insurgents further.

As such it is painfully clear that while the insurgents are more than capable of running roughshod over unarmed civilians and possess a certain intimidation factor towards some of the poorly organised and lead Iraqi security forces, they really pose a limited threat to western field forces ('limited' being a word with a very different meaning to 'no', before anyone starts).

Could then the UK intervene on a small scale? I reckon so, given that the force sent is not expected to take over the lions share of the task and roll back enemy to the Syrian border.

The immediate concern is to halt the Insurgents and put them on the back foot. It really shouldn't take a huge deployment to protect the civilians trapped on the Sinjar mountain range which is the main focus for a lot of international attention. This is precisely the sort of thing for which 16 Air Assault Brigade was slated as part of Army 2020. 

With special forces support, and perhaps someone like the RAF Regiments 2 squadron to hold the airstrip/helicopter landing site, this force should be able to protect the civilians long enough to get them evacuated by air, then set about making contact with the insurgents in support of Kurdish forces in the north.

Such a force need not march all the way into the insurgent heartland. They're not there to recapture all the towns and fight the war for the Iraqis. Just enough to help halt the insurgent expansion, to blunt the edge if you will, then sitting back and letting the Kurds and the Iraqis take over for the offensive. 

Could such an operation expand? More troops, more tasks, the ever feared "mission creep"? Well it's possible. And that's one of the things that has intrigued me most listening to and reading discussions amongst various groups. 

"Mission creep" has become a toxic phrase. It's become the military equivalent of walking into the heart of Merseyside and whispering the name "The Sun". It strikes fear into all those that hear it, and most of those that speak it. It is the sword of Damocles hanging over any modern commander, that their chance to command a major operation might become one to regret as the situation spirals off out of control.

But the simple fact is that "mission creep" has been a constant of military history for a very long time. Operations often start with one objective only to find themselves diverted to quite another. This has been especially the case in the modern era as the ability to communicate across continents in seconds and the ability to move forces from one continent to another in a matter of hours has expanded.

Politics and circumstances are two things very apt to shift at a moments notice. Going forward I suspect we must be prepared for "Mission creep" to become the rule as opposed to the exception.


  1. The problem with mission creep isn't mission creep
    Its planned expansion

    I want be to do c, but no one wants to let me, I can justify a, then say I need to do b, and then I can justify c

    1. In theory it's possible, but I would question how often politicians actually want to see themselves get more bogged down in a situation than they really need to.