Friday, June 20, 2014

The Next Chapter in Iraq: Airpower and Boots on the Ground

by Ed Timperlake

The complexities of US re-engaging in Iraq are captured in a very thoughtful article in the Washington Post, with a quote from Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula USAF (ret) who correctly summarizes the situation and asks exactly the right question. 

“Militarily, we can do just about anything we want,” said David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who helped lead previous air campaigns over Iraq and Afghanistan. “The question is, to what end?
There are two factions in American politics that are trying to answer immediately the general’s question. Some on the left will simply say, “Enough!” and their end point is simple, do nothing; America should stand down.  History has proven that one should never underestimate the left’s ability to walk away from strategic moral choices. Never forget that their direct lineage from the anti-war left turning a blind eye on Vietnamese boat people and the Cambodian Killing Fields after the fall of South Vietnam

The right can make a simple point; why should the US fight harder for something that those more directly affected are willing to fight for, especially considering all the money and US military sacrifice?

So it is a very fair question is, “To what end?”  

But first, as the administration proceeds, “the how” becomes critical.

All components of Airpower, from gathering Intel to bombing are essential in this fight. There is a very important discussion of a nation’s use of airpower in 21st Century war in a 2010 British Ministry of Defense report, Future Character-of-Conflict:

The report has this gem,
“If the enemy chooses or has no practical alternative other than wage warfare in a regular conventional way; US air power will defeat it long before US ground power comes into conflict.”
Unfortunately, Obama Administration dithering missed a battlefield opportunity to thwack the ISIS forces when they were out in the open and on the move. That could have really slowed down their advance. Now, to use another insightful phase in the MOD report, future combat operations in Iraq have metastasized into a “wicked problem.” Because as the British point out airpower can in certain situations come with significant limitations.
The future character of conflict requires a shift of emphasis from platforms and C2 nodes towards better human understanding especially where target signatures are small or ambiguous. Western conventional dominance is based on the ability to find, fix and strike the enemy force. Future threat actors will seek to operate in congested and cluttered environments in order to avoid Western superiority, which will require us to exploit newer environments such as space, cyberspace, and non-lethal weapons. Situational understanding will also require an in-depth knowledge of the adversaries’ military capabilities and also their culture and decision-making. Our people will need not only to understand the imperatives for campaign success, but also how to work within a highly nuanced context.

The reader will note that in the “fog of war,” if ISIS are in the open they can be bombed, but if they are amongst the population, it is an Iraqi Army intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) problem to flush them out and kill them. US Special Forces are world class in helping in that type of fight.

Consequently, with daily reporting of breaking events in Iraq describing the horror of fanatical Islamic killers on the march, the use of US military combat power goes beyond a theoretical issue. Time does not favor the US; the situation will not get better. A US military response is an immediate real world problem, and is a truly “wicked problem,” especially where innocent Iraqis are involved.

ISIS forces, crazier than Al-Qaeda, are current truly world-class bad guys, just as fanatical as the Khmer Rouge with their Killing Fields. They are using the horror of psychological terror as a weapon to their advantage in their 21st Century way of war. This is just like the Khmer Rouge and the WWII German Army.

US airpower cannot only just level the fight, but can tip the balance. However, there is a significant PR factor. The US and Allies have developed a real sensitivity toward killing innocents and avoiding collateral damage.  This is a very sincere doctrine that probably cost some US and allied troops their lives in Iraq by withholding air attack because of a lack of intelligence meant there was no assurance innocents would not be killed.

America and the entire Middle East and Europe might be directly affected if the events in Iraq facilitate Iran achieving their quest for a nuclear bomb. If Iran is seen as a moderating force in Iraq while still working diligently to erase Israel from the map, it will eventually help put the entire world in danger of horrendous death and destruction. The question posed earlier -- “to what end?” – has a simple answer. We could be facing Armageddon triggered in the Middle East by the Islamic Republic Iran seeking to being about the arrival of the Twelfth Mahdi.

Failure to act early on ISIS was a strategic blunder of historic proportions, and the president and his team’s current dithering does not help. Failure to anticipate and address Iran’s long term moves by embracing the immediate, Iran “help,” while ignoring Iran’s quest for a Nuke, will be unforgiveable.

Always remember that delay leads to more Iranian involvement. Letting Iran appear “moderate” is beyond foolish.  Everything else concerning any other political, and diplomatic solutions for Iraq and the region is second order.  After all, the Sunnis and Shias have been killing each with whatever weapons were at their disposal since Mohammed died. Adding Islamic nuclear bombs to the mix can only multiply the horror. So much for Islam being a 21st Century religion of peace.

The British have an ultimate conclusion, which asserts the need for “high-caliber people educated and trained to a new benchmark.”  The US has already failed completely with the foolish lightweights currently in charge.

Ed Timperlake traveled throughout Iraq in late 2003 on a DOD mission to identify contraband weapons smuggled into Iraq under the UN  "Oil-For-Food" program


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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