Monday, July 17, 2017

Mosul and 4th Generation Warfare

File this one under stuff Cataline finds interesting.

The Nuri Moque was built in the 12th century by Nur Ad-din, one of the stars of the Crusades.  It was where Al-Baghdadi declared his Caliphate.  The mosque with it's leaning minaret It was of huge symbolic importance to this cult.  When ISIS blew it up, they were publicly admitting that they couldn't hold on to it.  The Caliph is now either dead or the guest/captive of another player.  Though I suspect he's dead.  True, ISIS' media arm hasn't confirmed this yet but then they wouldn't until there was a successor and right now there isn't one.  The Caliphate needs a Caliph and they don't have one.  The selection of a successor is very complicated business for them.  One you need someone who meets the Sunni legal requirements.*  Then too this someone has to wrangle the ISIS coalition back together.   Lastly this someone has to be dumb enough to be the leader of a lost cause.

Which at this point is what ISIS is.

The Caliphate electrified Muslim radicals two years ago.  Everyone who was anyone in Jihadi world was offering the Bay'ah to Al-Baghdadi.  After all every day that  Islam existed without a Caliph was Islam in a state of sin.  There hadn't even been anyone claiming to be a Caliph since the last Ottoman Sultan was forced off the throne in 1922.

Al-Baghdadi set their world on fire in a way that even Bin-Laden didn't.  The Caliph not only met the legal requirements, he acted like a Caliph in every way that he could.  His Koranic fundamentalism was as pure as could be imagined.  While rejecting the very concept of borders, he held territory and drastically expanded it as required. His demand that Muslims to give him the Baya'ah and come fight for him was right and proper as well.

Then ISIS' expansion ran out of steam.  He couldn't advance any further and that was a major blow to his Koranic authority.    So he went with plan B. Victory is important to Arabs but it is malleable to circumstance.  Consequently a foreign terrorism binge was viewed as expanding the Caliph's territory.  That worked for a while but the flow of recruits trickled down to just a few losers who had no where else to go.  The high quality recruits ISIS had been getting dried up completely.

Al-Baghdadi was trying to provoke a major war with the United States on the grounds that he needed to defeat the armies of Rome on the plains of Dabiq. In case you are wondering why...

The Salafist version of the apocalypse goes something like this. The armies of the Caliph defeats the armies Rome on the Plains of Dabiq. The Caliphate then proceeds to sweep all before them until in Eastern Iran a (sort of) Anti-Christ arises; the Dajjal. The Dajjal will hammer the Caliphate until there are only 5,000 of the faithful remaining hold up in Jerusalem. Just as the Dajjal is about to destroy them, Jesus Christ will return to Earth and spear him.

But alas no major war with the United States or even Iran come to that. Just a coalition of Iraqi factions plus some US Special Forces types.

Finally the assault on Mosul began in earnest.

There is no getting around it.  Even on the defensive ISIS made a good show of it.  They proved to be very formidable.  Mosul is going to be mined for years by military analysts.  It was the biggest ground fight for the last ten years.  And drastically different from that one.

ISIS appears to have held the city for as long as it did with a mere six thousand troops.

Mosul was a proving ground for Fourth Generation Warfare.

The assault on Mosul proper revealed an enemy well-prepared to grind down an attacking force. ISIS fighters used tunnels and street-spanning canvas overhangs to hide their movements. They set up artillery — both conventional and improvised. They armed a small fleet of boats for riverine combat. Most forbiddingly, ISIS laced the city with car bombs and the means to replace them.

“A lot of VBIEDs,” said the coalition's Deputy Commander, Brig. Gen. Rick Uribe, referring to vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices—what some in the military have termed bluntly "very big improvised explosive devices." “Particularly in November and December, which is when we finally got into the urban side of the city.”

Those car bombs soon were exploding at the punishing rate of five per day. “Then you had indirect fire that ISIS was using against our Iraqi Security Forces,” Uribe said.

Stuff like mortars and rockets—some stolen from Iraqi Army stocks, some manufactured from scratch. “It really was inaccurate. But they just were putting a bunch downrange,” said Uribe.

ISIS also continued to use suicide bombers, including many more children, terrorism scholar Charlie Winter noted in an exhaustive analysis of ISIS suicide operations through February. The trend would continue through the month of June.

In early November, Iraqi special forces broke through to East Mosul, where the Islamic State’s resistance stiffened markedly. The use of suicide car bombs rose steadily, as did coalition airstrikes on more than 100 ISIS factories producing them.

But the advance also yielded troves of intelligence. Iraqi troops seized the TV station and began digesting new information on car-bomb factories, artillery caches and a new weapon: armed off-the-shelf commercial drones.

By 2016, many militant groups had already put consumer drones to use for surveillance and reconnaissance, but the battle for Mosul marked the first use of armed drones by a nonstate actor. And even as ISIS was pushed from East Mosul in January, their drones grew deadlier.

It was also an easy tactic to copy.

Within weeks, Iraqi federal police had armed drones of their own. Like the ISIS versions, these were rigged to drop 40mm grenades fixed to badminton-like birdies that steadied the munitions as they fell.

The January 24 liberation of the city's eastern side marked the battle’s halfway point, and the coalition took a few weeks to regroup. The next phase would push across the Tigris River, whose bridges had been largely disabled.

Coalition leaders used the time to review some of the more glaring tactical successes and shortcomings, said David Witty, a retired Green Beret colonel who now teaches at Norwich University. Witty, who advised Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service, or CTS, has published a report on Iraq’s Golden Division (also called the "Golden Knights") special forces for the Brookings Institution.

“There were a lot of mistakes made there in the first phase of the battle,” said Witty. “One of the big mistakes that was made early was that the counterterrorism service was really the only force to enter into East Mosul.”

For Baghdad, that was both a blessing—that the CTS advanced so far so quickly—and a curse, because the coalition began to rely on the special-purpose force to lead the charge. And oftentimes, alone.

“The counterterrorism service was set up to be an elite special operations unit,” Witty said. “You don't tell a Ranger battalion or a U.S. special forces battalion to go out and clear a city. That’s what you have a regular army for. The counterterrorism service, like the name implies, was an elite counterterrorism unit which is going to conduct precision range hostage rescues ambushes. It was never designed to be used the way it's been used now.”

The Golden Knights “fought in East Mosul by themselves for a good month while the other units were still outside of the city—the Iraqi army, the Iraqi federal police. It wasn't really until December when the other axes opened up and you had the Federal Police moving in, and the Iraqi army in, and they made some good progress.”

The pause appears to have given Iraqi officials time to absorb at least one important lesson.

“When they attack ISIS on multiple axes and have multiple advance routes, they’re successful. But when they only have one, it turns into a meat grinder,” Witty said. “It usually doesn’t work out, because ISIS is able to concentrate their best fighters and all their combat power on just that one axis. And that's a mistake that was made during the first half of the battle.”

“West Mosul is much more difficult is because it's such a compact battle space and there's so many people, the streets are narrow, and of course there's been civilian casualties, no doubt about that,” Witty said.

Coupled with ISIS' use of human shields (see, for example, here and here), these factors turned the advance into a bloody weeks-long stalemate, with thousands of civilians caught in the middle.

The coalition's deadliest strike of the ISIS war to date took place on March 17 in al-Jadida district, West Mosul. Iraqi forces called in an airstrike on two snipers atop a building, which once hit, triggered an enormous explosion that killed more than 100 Iraqis.

The airstrike on al-Jadida marked a deadly turning point. The coalition reduced the frequency of airstrikes on suspected VBIED factories, though officials continue to stand by the overall conduct of the air war in the Mosul offensive.

"I don't think you've seen another camapaign in a long time with the level of precision that we've been able to accomplish here in striking the right target with the right weapon at the right time," Uribe said.

But the bulk of the fighting has taken place on the ground, and under historically dangerous conditions, Uribe said. “When is the last time that any major army has fought in an environment like this? I would offer it’s probably been in World War II.” Others have suggested the 1990s battles for Grozny, Chechnya, and 1968's assault on Vietnam's Hue City—but with caveats.

Witty suggested the 1942 battle for Stalingrad as a possible parallel. But, he added, “The thing that really makes this different is that the Iraqis are really taking a lot of care to try to protect as many civilians as they can and as much infrastructure as they can. And, of course, those those weren’t concerns to the Germans and Russians in the battles that they fought. So that's what kind of makes this unique and I think that was really kind of a hallmark in the battle of the east Mosul.”

By the end of May, the Iraqi Security Forces had been bogged down just 900 meters from the Nuri mosque for more than 40 days. On June 21, perhaps as a kind of last hurrah, the Islamic State group apparently detonated explosives inside and around the 12th-century Nuri mosque. Coalition troops managed to push ISIS into the final, remaining blocks of the Old City by July 7, one week after retaking the territory around the symbolic Nuri mosque.

But alas failing to retake the old mosque itself.  Open source intel, armed drones and a fairly accurate assessment of which troops should be used for what mission.

As I said, this stuff is going to be mined for years.  I'm just hoping... Really hoping here, that the practical application of these lessons won't be in American cities. 

*“To be the caliph, one must meet conditions outlined in Sunni law—being a Muslim adult man of Quraysh descent (which Bin Laden was NOT); exhibiting moral probity and physical and mental integrity; and having ’amr, or authority."  That last is the tricky part, think of it in terms of the Roman virute of Autocratus and Dignatas but combined.

1 comment:

((( bob kek mando ))) - ( more Natural Born Kekistani than if my mother was a native of Moorhead MN and my father came from Cockram Mill VA ... so to speak ) said...

because ISIS is able to concentrate their best fighters and all their combat power on just that one axis.

isn't that a rather 'Duh' statement?

is our military actually surprised that single point of attack yields concentrated defense?