The NZSAS could soon join the fight against Daesh (if it has not already).

datePosted on 06:35, January 7th, 2016 by Pablo

The US has asked New Zealand to provide special operations troops to the anti-Daesh coalition. The government has said that it will consider the request but both the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister have qualified the response by stating that they do not think that NZ will increase its contribution beyond the company sized infantry training complement currently deployed at Camp Taji outside of Baghdad.

The Ministers’ caution has more to do with domestic political concerns than the practical or diplomatic necessities of the conflict itself. With a thin majority thanks to Winston Peter’s by-election victory in Northland, National cannot risk parliamentary defeat on the issue. But Opposition leader Andrew Little has signaled that Labour is willing to consider sending SAS troops to the fight, so the ground is clearing for authorization of a new phase of the NZDF mission.

This was predictable from the moment the NZDF first deployed to Iraq last May. It was clear then and it is now that training Iraqi soldiers is not enough to turn the tide against Daesh. The training is good and the troops that graduate have improved professional skills, but according to a report prepared by the US Defense Department immediately before Mr. Key travelled to Taji in October for his meet-and-greet photo op with the troops, they were no better in battle than they were before the training mission began.

The problem lies with the Iraqi Army leadership. Iraqi field rank officers are not included in the training program and are unwilling or unable to demonstrate the type of leadership skills under fire that are required to make best use of the training received by their soldiers from the NZDF and its allies.

That is where special operations troops like the NZSAS are useful. Among many other roles they serve as leadership advisors on the battlefield. Because of their exceptional skills and hardened discipline, SAS teams serve as force multipliers by adding tactical acumen, physical resilience and steadfastness of purpose to the fight. They lead by example.

NZ’s major allies already have special operations troops on the ground in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Although all of the nationally-badged SAS units roam the region, the Australian SAS is heavily involved in Iraq (and is present at Camp Taji). Not only do Australian SAS troops serve as forward spotters for RAAF FA-18s undertaking ground attack missions in Iraq. They have fought alongside Iraqi troops attempting to re-take the city of Ramadi, provincial capital of the Sunni heartland that is Anbar Province (119 kilometers from Camp Taji and 90 kilometres from Baghdad). The Australian role is considered to have been essential in the initial re-occupation of Ramadi, in which NZDF trained Iraqi troops participated. US, UK and Canadian special operators are currently conducting advisory, forward targeting, search and destroy and long-range intelligence missions against Daesh in north and western Iraq in conjunction with Kurdish and Iraqi forces. Russian, Iranian and Turkish special operators are on the ground in Iraq and Syria as well, and the contested spaces in which Western special forces are now actively involved in the Middle East extends to Libya, Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Anglophone special forces are the allies that the NZSAS trains with regularly and works the closest with when on foreign missions. Like its counterparts, NZSAS tend to spend much time in or near overseas conflict zones whether that is publicized or not, usually following the typical military rotation pattern of threes: a third overseas, a third preparing for deployment, and a third on home duty after deployment. It is fair to assume that their attention when overseas has recently been focused on Iraq, Syria and perhaps other conflict zones in the Middle East.

The PM has hinted as much, stating that the NZSAS could be involved in roles other than combat. Since one of its primary missions is long-range patrol and intelligence gathering (rather than active engagement of the enemy), it could well be that the NZSAS is already playing a part in the targeting of Daesh assets.

With around 130 SAS troops in A and B Squadrons (Air, Boat, Mountain), that leaves a minimum of two troops’ or a platoon sized group (30-40 soldiers excluding officers) available for foreign deployment at any given time. Since the NZSAS operates in squads of 3 to 6 men depending on the nature of the mission (4-5 squads per troop), this leaves plenty of room for tactical flexibility, operational decentralization and role diversification.

Reports dating back to early 2015 already put the NZSAS in theater in small numbers, something the government does not deny. They may not be based in Iraq (which gives the government plausible deniability when asked if there are NZSAS troops on the ground in Iraq), but the main focus of their mission certainly is. Given the logistics involved it would be unusual if the NZSAS has not been working behind the scenes for their eventual participation in more active combat roles beyond what it may already be engaged in.

It will be odd if NZ refuses to send its most elite soldiers when asked for them by its major allies in a UN sanctioned multinational military coalition. Troops like the NZSAS need regular combat experience to sharpen and maintain their skills and they cannot do that at home. Since part of their specialness is versatility in a wide range of combat environments, the NZSAS would be keen to test its troops in the mixed urban/desert, conventional and unconventional battlefields of Iraq, Libya and Syria. The kinetic environment in the fight against Daesh is highly complex and multi-faceted so it stands to reason that our elite soldiers would want exposure to it.

Leaving the NZSAS in NZ is akin to leaving a Bugatti in the garage. Much has been invested in their combat readiness. They are trained to fight autonomously and lead others in combat (such as during the anti-terrorist mission in Afghanistan). To keep their specialist skills they need to experience live hostile fire. It would therefore be counterproductive for them to be idling in Papakura when there is a just cause to be fought against real enemies of humanity who commit atrocities and wreak misery on those they subjugate.

Whether one likes it or not, thanks to the Wellington and Washington Agreements NZ is once again a first tier military partner of the US, standing alongside Australia, Canada and the UK in that regard. Most of NZ’s major diplomatic partners are members of the anti-Daesh coalition and some, like Norway and Denmark, have also contributed special operations troops to it. NZ ‘s major trade partners in the Middle East are part of the coalition. As a temporary member of the UN Security Council, NZ has been vocal in its condemnation of Daesh and in calling for a united diplomatic and military response against it. It consequently has no real option but to accede to the request for the NZSAS to join the fight. It may be mission creep but this was mission creep that was foreseeable (and arguably has been planned for and implemented in spite of the government’s obfuscations).

Critics will say that NZ has no dog in this fight, that it is neo-imperialist foreign intervention on behest of corporate interests that only serves to show how subservient governments like National’s are when it comes to pleasing the US. If so, then there are 59 other countries in that category, to which can be added Iran (and its proxies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon), Russia and the newly formed (if at this stage only on paper) Sunni Muslim anti-terrorism coalition that includes Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan. Critics will also point out that NZ is being selective about when and where it chooses to join foreign military adventures, and they would be right in that regard. But given its military resources, NZ pretty much has to be selective every time that it deploys troops, especially in combat roles. So there is nothing new, unusual or unethical in doing so.

Pacifists will say that the conflict with Daesh cannot be resolved by military means. It is true that military force alone is not sufficient to defeat Daesh, but removing it from the territory it occupies in Iraq, Libya and Syria is essential to that project. Not only is Daesh not prone to negotiating with its adversaries or sitting down with those that it disagrees with in order to settle differences. The very nature of its rule is based on coercion and imposition–of its puritanical values, of its medieval authority, of its rape and sex slave culture and of its harsh discriminatory treatment towards all who are not Sunni Arab men (and even the latter are not immune from its violence). Its removal is therefore justified on humanitarian grounds although disputed opinion polls claim that it enjoys some measure of public support in Anbar Province and Mosul. Yet even if the polls are correct–and that is very much questionable given the environment in which they are conducted–the hard fact is that there is no objective measure to gauge whether Daesh enjoys the informed consent of those that it governs, and until it does its reign is illegitimate because rule without majority consent is tyranny. Add to that the innumerable crimes against humanity Daesh has committed and its exportation and exhortation of terrorism across the globe, and the case against the use of force loses foundation.

Re-taking the ground lost to Daesh removes the main areas in which its leadership is located, from which it profits from oil production and where it trains jihadists from all over the world (some of whom return to commit acts of violence in their home countries). That in turn will lessen its appeal to prospective recruits. Thus the first step in rolling back Daesh as a international irregular warfare actor is to win the war of territorial re-occupation in the greater Levant.

The military objective in Iraq is to push Daesh out of Anbar Province and the Nineveh Governorate in which Mosul is located and force it to retreat back into Syria. At that point it can be subjected to a pincer movement in which the European/Arab/Antipodean/North American anti-Daesh coalition presses from the South and East while Russian, Iranian, Turkish and Syrian forces press from the North and West. The endgame will involve four milestones: first the capture of Ramadi, then the re-taking of Falluja, followed by the freeing of Mosul, and finally the seizure of the northern Syrian city of al-Raqqah, the capital of Daesh’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

Arab states will need to contribute more to the fight, including ground forces. Resolving the impasse over what to do with Assad is critical to establishing a united front between his military, Russia’s, Iran’s, Turkey and the anti-Daesh coalition. Both requirements are fraught and need to be the subject of delicate negotiations made all the more complicated by the Saudi-Iranian confrontation occasioned by the Saudi execution of a Shiia cleric. But for the negotiations to advance, much less to succeed, there needs to be battlefield gains against Daesh in Iraq that reverse its march towards Baghdad and which break the strategic stalemate currently in place. Once the prospect of victory over Daesh becomes possible, more countries will feel comfortable putting additional resources into the campaign against it.

There is room to be optimistic in that regard. In 2015 Daesh lost approximately 30-40 percent (+/- 5000 square miles) of the territory that it controlled in Iraq and Syria. Most of these losses were to Kurdish Peshmerga forces working in concert with Western special operations units. Significantly aided by its coalition partners and tribal militias, the Iraq Army has re-taken Tikrit (November) and the oil refinery town of Baiji (October) and is in the process of clearing the last pockets of Daesh resistance in Ramadi. Preparations for the re-taking of Falluja are well underway, and the battle for Mosul–Daesh’s biggest conquest in Iraq–is scheduled to begin within months. Key Daesh supply lines between Iraq and Syria are under near-constant aerial attack. In sum, the tide of Deash victories may not have completely turned but it does appear to have ebbed.

John Key does not do anything out of moral or ethical conviction, much less altruism. Instead he relies on polling and self-interest to drive policy. His polling may be telling him that it is getting politically less difficult to sell the NZSAS deployment to domestic audiences. But even if not, he has in the past ignored public opinion when it suits him (e.g. asset sales and the TPPA). With Labour warming to the idea of an NZSAS deployment, his political risk is reduced considerably regardless of public opinion. It is therefore likely that, weasel words notwithstanding, the train has been set in motion for that to occur.

Once the deployment is announced it is likely that the NZ public will support the decision and wish the troops Godspeed and success in fulfilling their mission. But even if the majority do not, the diplomatic and military pressure to contribute more to the war effort against Daesh will be enough to convince the government that it is in NZ’s best interests to agree to the request. In a non-election year and with Labour support it is also a politically safe thing to do.

What is certain is that the mission will be very dangerous for the troops involved. It will raise NZ’s target profile amongst Islamicists and could invite attack at home. But given the position NZ finds itself in, it is a necessary and ultimately justified thing to do for several reasons, not the least of which is upholding NZ’s reputation as an international actor.

A short version of this essay appears in the New Zealand Herald, January 7, 2016 (the comments are quite entertaining).

21 Responses to “The NZSAS could soon join the fight against Daesh (if it has not already).”

  1. Dennis Merwood on January 7th, 2016 at 11:49

    Pablo,
    I am a 67-year old Kiwi who has lived in the US since 1970.
    I could not disagree more with you on this one.
    The Kiwi’s would be absolutely nuts to get in the middle of what Bush/Cheney started in 2003.
    New Zealand must, like Switzerland, declare itself neutral on this quagmire.
    Respectfully,
    Dennis

  2. Pablo on January 7th, 2016 at 12:12

    Thanks Dennis.

    I also have reservations about the (ad) venture but I fear that it is a done deal. I agree with you on how this ugliness started and who is responsible for it. I have no doubt that Daesh got its start as the Iraqi Sunni resistance to the US occupation. I was opposed to that as well as the establishing of closer NZ-US military ties with the Washington and Wellington agreements, which I have argued at length in the past are corrosive of NZ’s “independent and autonomous” foreign policy.

    But what is done is done and NZ under National, following Labour’s lead, has put itself in the position it finds itself in (some might say the corner that it has backed into). Given the circumstances and NZ’s commitments, I have tried to pragmatically outline what I believe is already a fait accompli–that the SAS is in theatre and will be used more openly and extensively this year (in fact, as far as I can tell the US request was just window dressing on a done deal).

    Under those circumstances what I have written above tries to outline the reasons for their use. I have written a fair bit previously on the humanitarian reasons, under the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, why NZ has to get involved. I also wrote that it would have been preferable for the NZDF to build and protect a UN-operated refugee camp in Iraq (an idea of a friend of mine). But that did not happen. So, given the position that NZ has locked itself into, this is how I see events likely unfolding.

    If it is any consolation the smarter political scientist in my household agrees with you.

  3. Korakys on January 7th, 2016 at 12:47

    I assume this is unaltered from when you first posted it the other day?
    —-
    You should probably read up on the sunk-costs fallacy. It’s never too late to change course.

    Also Switzerland is too extreme of a model I think Dennis, I would advocate something more like Brazil (or Cuba actually, now that I think of it), for NZs foreign policy.

  4. Dennis Merwood on January 7th, 2016 at 12:56

    Thanks Pablo,
    Sadly, what the US taxpayer, or the Kiwi taxpayer thinks, it’s a done deal. Hillary, the war monger, or Trump the anti-Islamist, will continue to pour money down this rat hole. What have we spent so far? US$4.0 trillion is it?

    This American taxpayer does not want any more of his money squandered on this futile “war on terror”. Call me an isolationist. But anything is better than what we are doing now. To piss away New Zealand treasure like you are suggesting is surely…well, immoral!

    Respectfully,
    Dennis

  5. Pablo on January 7th, 2016 at 13:03

    Korakys:

    It pretty much is the same other than fixing some typos. I accidentally hit the “post” button yesterday when I meant to save the last draft for today. The idea was to time publication of the longer post in order to coincide with the shorter Herald op ed piece (which the editors had been sitting on since before Xmas).

    I am aware of the arguments about sunken costs. I believe that Daesh is a real regional threat and that the fight against it is winnable on military as well as political terms so it is not about futilely throwing more blood and money into a bottomless pit. It is certainly not about saving face. Had NZ not entered into a tighter security alliance with the US it might have been able to stay out of or at least finesse its contribution, but ever since 9/11 the political leadership of the two major parties have been trying to make nice with the US and this is just another consequence of that.

  6. Dennis Merwood on January 7th, 2016 at 13:11

    Come on Pablo!
    “A security alliance with the US”…what does that mean?
    The Kiwi’s need to dump the Yanks like a hot potatoe.
    There surely cannot be any security in aligning ones country to the biggest terrorist nation on earth. The USA.
    No more Kiwi kids in this mess. Bring em home now please.
    Not so respectfully this time!
    Dennis

  7. Pablo on January 7th, 2016 at 13:33

    Dennis:

    I did not support the tightening of NZ-US military ties and certainly was not a party to the negotiations. But things are what they are and NZ is locked into its security commitments thanks to that tightening. Truth be told I did not think that sending NZDF trainers was going to be of much use other than has a smokescreen fora more combat focused engagement down the road, and have been of the opinion that the SAS has been in theatre for a while. So what I am writing is not what I would have preferred to see happen but what I perceive is the way in which things will play out.

  8. Dennis Merwood on January 8th, 2016 at 02:13

    Morning Pablo,
    You know full well that sending NZDF trainers to Iraq was a pathetic waste of NZ’s resources. The Yanks have spent trillions training the Iraqi Army. This has had zero return on investment. These “trained” armies run away, and leave their weapons for ISIS. The piddling amount that the NZDF trainers added to that is insignificant and next to worthless. Just part of “Being in the Club” eh? Even though “The Club” is totally on the wrong side of history.

    I’m struggling with your stance that this is just the way it is, and it’s a done deal. To hell with that. You need to be using your blogspot to try to influence Kiwi’s that better solutions need to be found in the ME. Sending a couple of hundred Kiwi kids to this slaughter house is surely analogous to the atrocity of sending WW1 Kiwi soldiers to Gallipoli.
    No NZDF to fight DAESH please. Totally ridiculous notion.
    Respectfully,
    Dennis

  9. Pablo on January 8th, 2016 at 09:58

    Dennis:

    i think that our difference of opinion boils down to the fact that I believe that the fight against Daesh is just and you do not. During my formative years I spent a bit of time studying just war theory, covering the likes of St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and more contemporary theorists like Michael Walzer. Using the R2P concept, however defiled it has become in recent times, the fight against Daesh is just according to jus ad bellum criteria. For me the fight is just and humanitarian, first and foremost.

    I also happen to be what might be called a systems realist so there are many practical reasons for the NZDF to contribute to it. Systems refers to the operation of the international system and the role of individual nations within it. Realism speaks of national self-interest as the determinant of the use of power and sees international relations as amoral given the many national and cultural differences on what is ethical and moral. Although it can and should be tempered with idealism in specific circumstances (such as the use of the R2P doctrine), systems realism is above all things pragmatic.

    As I tried to explain in the article, I do not buy the arguments that it is simply a neo-imperialist resource grab, a mere toadying to the US, much less a clash of civilisations. Nor do I buy the pacifist argument that the use of force is unjustified in this instance.

    Interestingly, the over-simplified version of the essay published in the Herald elicited a fair bit of response, most of it negative. I would say that the comments ran about 4 to 1 against me. What was interesting about that was that half of those opposed were isolationists or pacifists, with another half being opposed to the US, imperialism, the CIA, Zionists, corporate domination and the like. A small number did not realise that the NZDF were already on the ground in Iraq.

    It made me wonder if they had actually read the article.

  10. Dennis Merwood on January 8th, 2016 at 13:40

    Pablo,
    We need to disagree OK.
    I too read the Herald article.
    I was relieved that many Kiwi’s disagreed with the authors opinion.
    Pablo, no “War” is just and humanitarian.
    War solves nothing.
    Call me a “peace-nick” if you want.
    But, I think that no good is going to come out of these ME
    “Wars”. There will be no victor.
    Maybe you want to be the one that has to explain to some grieving Mum and Dad that there Kiwi son was killed in a just and humanitarian war 10,000kms from NZ.
    I don’t think I could do that.
    I enjoyed debating with you.
    Dennis

  11. Pablo on January 8th, 2016 at 14:01

    Cheers Dennis.

  12. Korakys on January 8th, 2016 at 20:24

    My position on war:

    I think defensive violence is justifiable as long as you maintain the consent of those being defended.

    Offensive violence though to me is unjustifiable unless it is part of a credible strategy to reduce overall levels of violence in the long run. That is while there might be a short term increase in casualties, over the long run suffering will be reduced.
    —-

    I think the first-world states attacking Daesh passes this test as Daesh is generating suffering at an incredible rate at the moment. However I don’t think the bombing and training strategy passes the credibility test.

    In fact it doesn’t appear to be much of a strategy at all. I’m not seeing any addressing of the underlying problems other than supporting the removal of Assad (but what/who to replace him with is never mentioned).

    It seems to me that the underlying problem is that the lines on the map are drawn wrong, but that all the major players are trying their damndest to make sure those lines are enforced. It’s a fools game.

    As for the Iraqi Army the people that need training are the officers, not the soldiers, but this is not being done and is unlikely to be done. I think the Kiwi trainers will have little effect in the long term, and for what gain to NZ? It is better for NZ to move towards an independent foreign policy where we will not be tainted by association to US adventures that usually end in greater violence.

    The US are doing the bare minimum to defeat Daesh and will likely be able to push them underground eventually, but the replacement governments will be just as bad and the underlying problems will not have been solved in the slightest.

  13. Daniel on January 11th, 2016 at 12:26

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one Pablo.

    Not because I am particularly opposed to sending troops or for any diplomatic or political reasons but for the simple fact that sending 30, 100 or 130 SAS into that conflict is not going to solve anything. ,Its well beyond the fold of anything but a full scale deployment of forces, which may end up creating just as many problems than it solves (as we saw with Gulf War I & II).

    Also while I get the point about the Bugatti in the garage analogy I suspect that anyone being sent into the line of fire (and not training troops behind the wire (SAS or not)) under that analogy may not appreciate it so much when they start catching fire.

    Sure its good get some value for $$$ on all that fancy training the SAS get but again at best they get to say they participated and little else.

    This conflict is not one that force is going to solve, that has been proven again and again in this region. Currently the Middle East is like the perpetual motion machine of global conflict.

  14. Pablo on January 11th, 2016 at 14:05

    Thanks Daniel.

    it is clear that it is the Iraqis and Syrians as well as other Arab countries must be ultimate determiners of their collective fates. but without the leadership and support provided by external actors such as Russia and the coalition, they may not be able to do so or the conflict could go on interminably. So my view is to marshall focus in order to hasten Daesh’s demise as a territorial sovereign, and that is where the SAS can play a role.

    Plus, TBH, I have a very strong feeling that the SAS has been in theatre for a while and are already doing there thing in a limited and covert way. My outline simply allows the government to make that presence public knowledge in light of the US request (which it will almost certainly agree to in some measure).

    As I have said before, my preference would have been to use NZDF assets in a different role, specifically the refugee camp idea I got from a friend. But since that did not happen and the situation is what it is, this seems to me like the next best thing. But I fully hear what you are saying.

  15. Daniel on January 12th, 2016 at 08:50

    I would agree with those points except the one about external leadership.

    I have my doubts that the US or Russia can really provide any real leadership in these situations anymore.

    Its not just that neither really is able (or willing) to project force into the region and is stuck playing with their air planes, or that both are pretty much morally bankrupt for actual leadership (the US because its responsible for the current mess in the region and Russia because Putin) but because the region itself does need to step up and fix this themselves.

    Its over 100 years of meddling by foreign powers thats lead to this state of affairs, saying that the situation needs more foreign intervention/leadership is like suggesting the house fire needs more petrol poured on it.

    At this point the only option that has not been explored is the one where the actual states themselves are left to sort things out which sounds like an unpalatable suggestion until you realize that its the logical solution for any state that actually wishes to mature and develop.

    The Middle East has been stuck in the middle of colonial, great power and cold war actors for so long now that its mostly nothing but a hodge podge of ill defined states based around a vague idea of ethnic and religious affinities. Few if any are stable, all have a range of tensions just below the surface if they are not already in conflict and many (Im looking mainly at Saudi Arabia here) are governed by doctrines and ideas which are identical to the very things we are planning to wipe out in ISIS.

    That old adage about the lunacy of trying to power play in the region because of the high levels of factionalism and infighting make any attempt at a coherent effort in the region impossible until those actual divisions are closed or eradicated.

    Yes its an ugly suggestion but at this point standing back and seeing who actually comes out on top in the region would be better than trying to jury rig a status quo which will not last and simply act as the catalyst for another round of regional in-fighting.

    There is a reason why China deliberately sought to remove all vestiges of colonialism and assert its independence once the revolution and WW2 was won and this is the same thing the Middle East needs to do. The rest of the world is just going to have to accept that or accept that its perpetual conflict.

    Im not suggesting that the Middle east needs a Cultural revolution or Great Leap Forward but the regional power players need to actually be allowed to power play and not just lead around or forced to play by proxy.

    I know that its near heresy in these times to suggest such a thing but I would put my money on Iran as being the best bet in the east and Israel in the West. Forget the Saudis or the Iraqis, neither can do this and the Saudis are in a far more precarious position than they would like to admit (Yemen has gone toxic as we all knew it would).

    Of course there would need to be some big adjustments but if left to sort (read fight) it out there would be more likelihood of an actual resolution coming than as things are now with endless war, revolution and unstable government.

    Finally even if ISIS is wiped out to the last man then what, will that actually solve things, will that prevent another organisation like it form popping up? If Saudi Arabia remain in the picture the answer will be yes. Also given how well the last effort at “change” went with the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan I am not sure that there is any validity in the idea of an effective collation.

    What we are watching is the obvious limit of great power extension. Hence why none of these so called efforts to “bring order” actual does that. Neither US or Russia has the actual power or ability to win this or even slow this down.

  16. Daniel on January 12th, 2016 at 08:54

    Actually If we were to take this to its logical conclusion the US should invade and overthrow Saudi Arabia. As Gordon Campbell pointed out over on scoop with friends like the Saudis who needs enemies.

  17. Pablo on January 12th, 2016 at 15:37

    I really have no quarrel with your last two posts Daniel. But my view is that doing nothing is worse than doing something.

    I believe that in the end this is a Sunni Arab fight first and foremost. Daesh is as much interested in toppling the oil oligarchies as it is in anything else. But it needs a territorial base to do so, and states weakened by war such as Iraq and Syria make perfect hosts for the “caliphate.” Although I have zero love for the wahabbist freaks in the House of Saud, I would choose them over al-Baghdadi and his psychopaths. The time is long past for arguing about the origins of the conflict and who is to blame.

    One thing is clear: the Arabs need to get into the fight and they need to work out a deal with Iran, Russia and Assad in order to do so. The west cannot do all the heavy lifting on the ground if Daesh is to be rolled back. Egypt has gotten the message, as has Algeria and Tunisia given what is gong on in Libya. But the Gulf potentates need to grow some gnads and put their expensive war toys to use, not just in the air but on the ground, and not in Yemen but in Iraq. To its credit, the Iraqi defense forces appear to be lifting their game and are starting to take the fight to Daesh. Add in the Kurds and Western support, and the tide can turn. The battle for Mosul will be decisive.

  18. Korakys on January 12th, 2016 at 17:08

    Once Iraq retakes Mosul they will be back to square one, being unwelcome occupiers. If Baghdad can effectively suppress the religious fundamentalists (a big if) then there will just be uncontrolled random violence (stabbings and mass shootings).

  19. Pablo on January 12th, 2016 at 17:28

    As with Ramadi, Tikrit and elsewhere in Anbar, the issue of post-reoccupation governance is paramount. Mosul is a wrinkle in this cloth. Given their role in the fight the Kurds should and will have a disproportionate say in that, and the Sunnis will add their weight as well.

    Al Abadi, his supporters and Iran all need to see that this is not unmanageable so long as it does not become the thin wedge of an independent Kurdish state (which I believe, incidentally, could be a good thing). A return to (this time formal) local if not provincial autonomy in exchange for recognition of the Baghdad govt should be at the core of the negotiations.

  20. Daniel on January 13th, 2016 at 10:40

    Pablo: I do agree that making this along Sunni/Shia lines would be the best bet for getting things realigned but if thats the case a lot of states in the region are going to get “remade” along new lines, which I do think is a good thing. I dont think its just ISIS that think the Skykes/Picot legacy is a bad thing.

    Again though, and I swear I’m not trying to be deliberately contrary, I dont think we can move against ISIS without a long hard look at Saudi Arabia as well. Yes they have the oil, yes they are a sovereign state but the differences between them and ISIS are really just minor shadings, the real differences are zero and if ISIS did become a state they would end up much like Saudi Arabia.

    No one likes the idea of regime change, and I would be the first to oppose it as a general principle but when the current argument is removing ISIS due to its toxicity and the threat posed by it then removing ISIS without actually removing the root cause of much of the terror in the Middle East is just leaving things the same as before.

  21. Peter on January 15th, 2016 at 17:57

    I think what we are seeing is pretty much a rerun of the original Afganistan war between CIA supported Sunni extremists and the USSR. As we know this resulted in Al Queda going rogue which resulted in 9/11.
    The CIA have been supporting extremist Sunni tribes in an attempt to overthrow Assad and in the process one the of the groups has gone rogue again.
    Rather than helping the CIA clean up their mess we need to let them clean up their own mess and hopefully they will learn something from it which will result in the world being a more peaceful place.

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