Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Op-Ed: The Fall of Ramadi Was Avoidable

By Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan
The Washington Post, May 18, 2015

The seizure of Ramadi on Sunday leaves President Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State in ruins not only in Iraq but also throughout the Muslim world. It means that the Iraqi security forces will almost certainly not be able to recapture Mosul this year and, therefore, that the Islamic State will retain its largest city in Iraq. Worse, it gives the group momentum again in Iraq even as it gains ground in Syria and expands in the Sinai, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere. This defeat was avoidable. Neither the Islamic State nor any other al-Qaeda offshoot has ever taken a major urban area actively defended by the United States in partnership with local forces. This is what happens when a policy of half-measures, restrictions and posturing meets a skillful and determined enemy on the battlefield. If the president does not change course soon, he will find that his legacy is not peace with Iran and ending wars, but rather the establishment of a terrorist state with the resources to conduct devastating attacks against the United States and a region-engulfing sectarian war.

Obama reacted slowly and reluctantly to the initial Islamic State surge last June from Syria into Mosul and then down the Tigris toward Baghdad. He authorized U.S. air support to assist the defense of the Kurdish capital of Irbil in August and eventually deployed first a few hundred and then a few thousand U.S. advisers. He did not allow those advisers to fight alongside the Iraqi units they were assisting. U.S. airstrikes have destroyed many fixed Islamic State targets and killed its fighters by the thousands since then, mainly in Iraq, but have allowed the group to retain a haven in Syria and even to maneuver freely within Iraq.

The Islamic State maneuver that led up to the fall of Ramadi was sophisticated and many weeks in the making, as a recent publication from the Institute for the Study of War shows. It entailed diversionary attacks in Baiji and Garma, a prison break in Diyala, attacks against pilgrims in Baghdad and raids near Ayn al-Asad air base west of Ramadi, a major hub of U.S. forces and Iraqi training. It was accompanied by a coordinated offensive around Deir ez-Zor, in Syria, that could give the group the ability to operate all along the Euphrates and toward Damascus as well. Numerous Islamic State fighters moved across Iraq and Syria. Although they leveraged poor weather that impedes U.S. reconnaissance, such activity must have created a signature that a properly resourced U.S. force in the region would have detected, and it certainly created a proliferation of targets on the ground for combinations of attack aviation and ground maneuvers — had those resources been available and allowed to operate freely. U.S. military power, properly employed and resourced, can thwart these kinds of maneuvers. The fall of Ramadi was unnecessary and avoidable....

Read the rest of this Op-Ed here.
Kimberly Kagan is president of the Institute for the Study of War. Frederick W. Kagan is director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute