Taking Mosul from the Islamic State is a critical event that must transpire. Mosul is one of the Islamic State’s most important strongholds. If not done in the best way possible – this fight could drag on. For the Islamic State, they know they’re out-gunned and so, creating humanitarian crisis to test the will of the invaders is likely to happen. Using people as human shields. Planting mines on routes they know civilians will use to escape. As the opposing forces encroach Mosul, more civilians will be lost. It’s been reported 1.5 million civilian lives are exposed to this violence. How are we supposed to liberate this city and minimize the loss of life? Is it possible, or just a reality of this latest series of battles in the Middle East?
The President is holding true to his promise two years ago – to ultimately destroy the Islamic State. They began by focusing on degrading their capabilities and stealing their momentum. Much of Iraq has been liberated, and the Islamic State was never close to taking Baghdad, the heartbeat of Iraq. Since then a war has raged against ISIL by both and Iraqi and Kurdish forces throughout Iraq. Stemming from Baghdad, they’ve pushed north and spread their influence forcing ISIL to fall back ultimately. They’ve fallen back to one of their most potent strongholds – Mosul. The final act of ISIL in Iraq is playing out, right now.
Already, the action in surrounding villages leading to Mosul is intensifying. U.S. command and control in Irbil are sitting by and watching, assessing the situation. It’s possible this fight could require more of the West. If so, the dilemma is that any Western ground presence might be intertwined with Iranian and Hezbollah forces. We aren’t likely to see a no-fly zone in Syria, or any real action against Assad until ISIL isn’t a primary figure in this quagmire. Under the reality, we can’t fight two parallel wars where actors cross over in the same space. It’s already difficult to delineate a difference in the two efforts.
The next administration’s foreign policy wonks and existing military brass are probably hopeful that ISIL will be significantly downgraded by next year. That way whoever is next can deal with the short-term relief of whatever a safe zone looks like – and however they choose to deal with Assad. But, there’s no doubt the wheels are moving – towards a larger more final anti-Assad game plan. It looks increasingly like it means American SOF on the ground, probably with Western coalition partners. The debate will be with Russia – over who is and is not a terrorist as their primary battle is an existential one to combat terror. As ours is – but we’ve gotten lost in the humanitarian and principle-based standoff with Assad. Mosul falling is critical for the Iraqis – who we do owe some solidarity. They’ve undergone a devastating war and unlike our efforts in Syria – we can’t walk away from them if we chose.