March 3, 2015 | Commentary on National Security and Defense, Terrorism, Iraq

In puzzler, prez lets ISIS know Iraq battle schedule

Team Obama’s decision late last week to disclose to the press the operational outline for an all-out assault on the Islamic State (aka ISIS)-held Iraqi city of Mosul is a bit of a head scratcher.

It’s like: “Hey, ISIS — please save the date.”

The Pentagon also reportedly told the press that the April-May offensive would include as many as 25,000 Iraqi/Kurdish Peshmerga troops, alongside Sunni tribesmen and local police.

Now, it’s not as if we gave them the exact hour of the exact day, but we’ve certainly taken away the time-old, treasured military element of surprise — often an important factor.

Plus, given that urban assault can be a serious slog with street fighting and house-to-house clearing operations, isn’t it going to be even more difficult with the steps the enemy will now take to improve its odds of prevailing?

For instance, while the Islamic State expected that Mosul would be contested at some point, its fighters will find the best sniper locations, set up fields of fire, plant IEDs, etc. — ASAP.

Worse, news analysis seems to indicate the Iraqi army probably won’t be ready by the spring and the Kurds aren’t properly armed yet due to Baghdad’s sensitivities about bolstering the Peshamerga forces.

ISIS will also probably look for opportunities to distract the coalition militarily elsewhere from its planned operation against Mosul. In fact, the announcement of the upcoming fight might “turbo-charge” militant recruitment (via social media, of course) to defend the caliphate’s eastern outpost.

None of this is good. So what might account for broadcasting operational information to the enemy?

First, the Obama administration just ended a “Combating Violent Extremism” conference in Washington where the outcome seemed (from the outside) to be more “thud” than “thunder.”

The president came under fire — again — for not calling the violent extremism we’re experiencing either “Islamic” or “Islamist,” even though that is what the conference seemed to be mostly about.

It’s possible the White House concluded that since the confab came off as a bit academic, replete with ideas such as “jobs for jihadists” and “education for extremists,” maybe its overall message needed some muscling up.

What better way than announcing a military operation against ISIS?

Then, perhaps Team Obama wanted to put pressure on the Iraqi political/military leadership to get hot on defeating the Islamic State, especially after last summer’s Mosul humiliation — which included its troops stripping off their uniforms while in full retreat.

In other words: Baghdad, it’s time to get your act together and take back your country — of which ISIS owns a third, oh by the way.

It’s also conceivable that perhaps by giving the Islamic State plenty of notice of a spring offensive that it might rapidly retreat for Raqqa or give the nearly 2 million civilians in Mosul tons of time to beat feet before the bullets start flying.

Regardless of the possible reasons, none seem to satisfy.

The ISIS “pre-vite” also seems to require a successful outcome for the operation, something that has been in short supply. Indeed, anything short of overwhelming victory for the coalition will look like a win for the Islamic State.

 - Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Originally appeared in The Boston Herald