The Islamic State as a Fighting Force

US Special Forces officers consulted by ABC News stripped away some of the veneer of victory over militant forces of the Islamic State that emerged after the Mosul Dam was retaken by Kurdish and Iraqi forces, a week or so ago. ABC reports in an article posted yesterday, that “military options are being considered against an adversary who officials say is growing in strength and is much more capable than the one faced when the group was called “al Qaeda-Iraq” during the U.S. war from 2003-2011.”

“These guys aren’t just bugging out, they’re tactically withdrawing. Very professional, well trained, motivated and equipped. They operate like a state with a military,” said one official who tracks ISIS closely. “These aren’t the same guys we fought in OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) who would just scatter when you dropped a bomb near them.” Furthermore, “they tried to push out as far as they thought they could and were fully prepared to pull back a little bit when we beat them back with airstrikes around Erbil. And they were fine with that, and ready to hold all of the ground they have now,” a second official said.

This assessment of IS’s fighting ability was seconded by an article posted on Al-Monitor, which draws its conclusions from Iraqi military officials. “It is important to understand that IS retreats from certain areas where it knows the army is unable to maintain its control, and then returns at a later stage,” writes author Mushreq Abbas. “This is the reason it usually resorts to a smooth withdrawal from the sites it controls if it encounters heavy attacks. Such withdrawal is indeed tactical, because it is based on the hypothesis that the Iraqi army will not be able to control the land upon entering.” This hypothesis was borne out in Tikrit, where Iraqi special forces were able to penetrate into the city and drive IS forces to the outskirts. Once the Iraqi special forces turned the city over to the army, the army was unable to hold it. “The inability of Iraqi forces to control the liberated land comes from the lack of traditional defense mechanisms such as air forces, logistical abilities to build fortifications and the necessary supplies to link battlefronts,” said special forces commander Maj. Gen. Fadel Barwari.

This is the kind of behavior one should expect from a force that is guided by professional army officers–in this case, former Saddam-era officers who are associated with the IS forces–that understands its own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of the adversary.

— Obama Must Seek Congressional Authorization and Work with Other Countries Before Acting Against the ISIS, Argues Walter Pincus —

In his Washington Post column Tuesday, analyst Walter Pincus pointed out to President Obama that both history and political common sense argue that the President needs public backing, and thus congressional support, to deal with dangers posed by the rapid growth of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). Obama needs to work with other nations, and Pincus cited the AP report saying that Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters traveling with him to Afghanistan on Aug. 24, that “he expected Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to work with the United States against the Islamic State.”

Pincus said that one of Obama’s major objectives should be to prevent foreign fighters from moving into the Syria-Iraq region. Late next month, Obama will chair a UN Security Council meeting at the heads-of-state/government level to discuss this. Obama’s appearance is aimed at getting a UN resolution to restrict the movement of such fighters.

Pincus said General Dempsey made clear in a Pentagon news conference on Aug. 21 that the Islamic State cannot be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria. Hence, the President would be wise to get Congressional authorization to take military action wherever necessary against the Islamic State. He needs the Congressional authorization as well, to help mobilize other countries, Pincus noted.

Pincus often writes on behalf of unnamed high U.S. military officials.

— Even the War Party is Demanding that Obama Come to Congress —

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is sponsoring the Russian Aggression Prevention Act in the US Senate, demanding that NATO grant “major non-NATO ally” status to Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, is also insisting that President Obama must first come to Congress for authorization of any further military actions against ISIS. Corker, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the President must get Congressional approval before launching air strikes against ISIS in Syria. He told MSNBC that the President needs new authorization to take action against ISIS, because the existing Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) is not relevant to the current challenges posed by ISIS. The 60 days of military operations allowed under the War Powers Resolution have passed, and what is now required is far more complex, demanding greater coordination.

Corker’s RAPA bill would authorize $100 million in direct military hardware aid to Ukraine and would accelerate the implementation of phase three of the European Missile Defense plan to be completed by the end of 2016. RAPA also mandates a build-up of American and other NATO forces in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, and obliges the US to use “all appropriate elements of United States national power” to defend Ukraine. And in an even bigger provocation of Russia, RAPA demands that “Russian forces must have withdrawn from Crimea within seven days of the enactment of the Act.” It also provides for sanctions against any nation that recognized Russian annexation of Crimea as legitimate.

On a more sane note, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) continues to insist that President Obama must come to Congress for an up-or- down vote on whether he can conduct further military actions against ISIS. This has been Kaine’s persistent stance since the beginning of the current crisis.

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