Sunday, September 14, 2014

President Obama Needs to Get Real about Fighting ISIS

How hard is the battle against ISIS going to be?  Let's remember the second battle of Fallujah in late 2004:
Located approximately forty miles west of Baghdad, Fallujah was effectively surrounded by US forces by October 14. Establishing checkpoints, they sought to ensure that no insurgents were able to escape the city. Civilians were encouraged to leave to prevent being caught in the coming battle and an estimated 70-90% of the city's 300,000 citizens departed. During this time, it was clear that an assault on the city was imminent and the insurgents prepared a variety of defenses and strong points. The attack on the city was assigned to the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF).    
With the city cordoned off, efforts were made to suggest that the Coalition attack would come from the south and southeast as had occurred in April. Instead, I MEF intended to assault the city from the north across its entire breadth. On November 6, Regimental Combat Team 1, consisting of the 3rd Battalion/1st Marines, 3rd Battalion/5th Marines, and the US Army's 2nd Battalion/7th Cavalry, moved into position to assault the western half of Fallujah from the north.
They were joined by Regimental Combat Team 7, made up of the 1st Battalion/8th Marines, 1st Battalion/3th Marines, and the US Army's 2nd Battalion/2nd Infantry which would attack the eastern part of the city. These units were joined by Iraqi troops as well. With Fallujah sealed, operations began on at 7:00 PM on November 7, when Task Force Wolfpack moved to take objectives on the west bank of the Euphrates River opposite Fallujah. While Iraqi commandoes captured Fallujah General Hospital, Marines secured the two bridges over the river to cut off any enemy retreat from the city.  
A similar blocking mission was undertaken by the British Black Watch Regiment south and east of Fallujah. The next evening, RCT-1 and RCT-7, backed by air and artillery strikes commenced their attack into the city. Using Army armor to disrupt the insurgent's defenses, the Marines were able to effectively attack enemy positions, including the main train station. Though engaged in fierce urban combat, Coalition troops were able to reach Highway 10, which bisected the city, by the evening of November 9. The eastern end of the road was secured the next day, opening a direct supply line to Baghdad. 
Despite heavy fighting, Coalition forces controlled approximately 70% by the end of November 10. Pressing across Highway 10, RCT-1 moved through the Resala, Nazal and Jebail neighborhoods while the RCT-7 assaulted an industrial area in the southeast. By November 13, US officials claimed that most of the city was under Coalition control. The heavy fighting continued for the next several days as Coalition forces moved house-to-house eliminating insurgent resistance. During this process thousands of weapons were found stored in houses, mosques, and tunnels which connected buildings around the city.    
The process of clearing the city was slowed by booby-traps and improvised explosive devices. As a result, in most cases, soldiers only entered buildings after tanks had rammed a hole in a wall or specialists had blasted a door open. On November 16, US officials announced that Fallujah had been cleared, but that there were still sporadic episodes of insurgent activity.
It was one of the toughest battles of the Iraq War, with over 50 U.S. casualties and many injuries.

I bring up Fallujah because there will be many of these battles before ISIS is defeated.  They are clearly a lot stronger than al-Qaeda, and spread out over large portions of territory. 

You cannot degrade ISIS with air power.  It will take air power plus a strong ground troop effort to root them out of areas.  It will take an honest president who confronts the US public with reality, as Angelo M. Codevilla wrote yesterday:
President Obama’s promise “to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL” may or may not end up causing problems for the Islamic State.
Surely however, it further degraded our security by further engaging us in the combination of fantasy and half measures that has earned America a reputation for un-seriousness and opened hunting season on Americans everywhere.
It's time to get serious, Mr. President.  Your base won't like it, but the soldiers you are putting in harm's way deserve a little truth about what it will really take to dismantle ISIS.

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