US Ground Troops Fighting ISIL

The ground troops that United States has not sent into Iraq to fight ISIL are reportedly in Iraq fighting ISIL.

The ground troops that United States has not sent into Iraq to fight ISIL are reportedly in Iraq fighting ISIL.

BloombergBusinessweek (“U.S. Soldiers Fight Islamic State in Iraq, Kurds Advance“):

U.S. soldiers clashed with Islamic State militants, helping the Iraqi army repel attacks against the town of al-Baghdadi in the western Anbar province, Al Jazeera TV reported, as Kurdish forces advanced in the north.

The U.S. troops were from al-Assad military base, the biggest in Anbar, First Lieutenant Muneer al-Qoud from the Iraqi police said by phone. Meanwhile, a U.S. senior military official said there are no U.S. ground troops fighting in Iraq, though forces can engage in self-defense if required.

The clashes may mark the first time U.S. ground forces have engaged Islamic State militants since President Barack Obama authorized air strikes against the al-Qaeda breakaway group in August. A ground conflict would signal a policy shift for Obama, who made pulling the U.S. out of Iraq the centerpiece of his first presidential campaign and oversaw the withdrawal of combat forces from the country in 2011.

The senior military official said the U.S. mission in Iraq is to prepare and support the country in fighting Islamic State forces, and no engagement with militant forces was being tracked.

From the beginning, it’s been obvious that the goals of defeating ISIL and not sending in ground troops are mutually contradictory. Given that President Obama is a pretty smart guy and is surrounded by experts in military affairs, the obvious takeaway is that our goal is something short of defeating ISIL, namely containment. But the fact of the matter is that, while the U.S. soldiers on the ground aren’t “ground troops” in the sense of infantry forces sent there with the mission of actively closing with and destroying an enemy force, there presence makes their getting into the occasional firefight inevitable.

I’m therefore inclined to believe the Al Jazeera report. The question becomes how isolated this event will be.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, National Security, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I’d love to see a coherent statement of how we’ll contain ISIL with or without direct military confrontation.

    In anticipation of the criticism that I’m claiming that the “Islamic State” is ten feet tall or some other rubbish, I think that ISIL will either be self-containing or there isn’t a great deal we can do within the constraints of what we’re willing to do to contain them.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I’ll do better than that: we have already contained ISIS.They’re no longer taking territory, they are losing territory. They impaled themselves on Kobani and are now beaten there. They’ve been unable to advance against Assad, or against Jordan, or against Saudi Arabia. They certainly aren’t going to be advancing against Iran.

    When an aggressive military force that has made its name on blitzkrieg stops advancing, they’re “contained.” And it’s apparently not just me who sees the handwriting on the wall.

    ISIS just executed 100 deserting “foreign fighters.”

    Militants belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have executed 100 members for trying to flee their base in the northern Syrian city of Raqaa, the Financial Times reported on Saturday.

    An activist, who was identified by the newspaper as opposed to the Syrian regime and ISIS, confirmed to the FT the execution of the 100 foreign fighters attempting to flee Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital.

    After being on the run for months, “frustration” began sweeping among the Islamist militants, the daily said.

    Fighters sense a halt to ISIS’ military progress and are witnessing mounting casualties among their ranks, the report added.

    The Kurds are retaking territory. ISIS is boxed in, and the Baghdad government, the Kurds, the various Gulf States, Iran and the US, are now beginning to reduce the size of that box.The strategy that you keep saying isn’t a strategy appears to have already succeeded in large measure.

    Total US casualties to date? Last I heard it was still zero.

  3. anjin-san says:

    Several ‘high-value’ ISIS leaders killed in Iraq, Pentagon officials say

    U.S. airstrikes have killed several top Islamic State leaders in Iraq in recent weeks, limiting the terrorist army’s ability to fight Iraqi and Kurdish forces, Pentagon officials said.

    Three top Islamic State leaders were killed in recent weeks, including multiple senior and mid-level leaders, said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby. One of the leaders killed was Haji Mutazz, a deputy to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the terror group, officials said.

    “We believe that the loss of these key leaders degrades ISIL’s ability to command and control current operations against Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), including Kurdish and other local forces in Iraq,” Kirby said. “While we do not discuss the intelligence and targeting details of our operations, it is important to note that leadership, command and control nodes, facilities, and equipment are always part of our targeting calculus.”

    Earlier, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told The Wall Street Journal those killed included key players in the jihadist army that has carved out a vast swath of territory in Iraq and Syria.

    “It is disruptive to their planning and command and control,” Dempsey told the Journal. “These are high-value targets, senior leadership.”

    U.S. strikes also killed Abd al Basit, the head of Islamic State’s military operations in Iraq, between Dec. 3 and Dec. 9. Officials told the Journal that a November strike killed midlevel commander Radwin Talib, ISIS’ wali, or governor, in Mosul, Iraq.

    http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/12/19/several-top-isis-leaders-killed-in-iraq/

  4. michael reynolds says:

    I continue, by the way, to believe that al-Baghdadi’s only useful move would be a dramatic seizure of a major target, preferably in Saudi Arabia. He needs his Battle of the Bulge, his wild stab at reversing the clear trend of defeat. Otherwise, he’s done.

    Very Hitlerian, really: advance boldly against unprepared enemies, gain a reputation for invincibility, rally wanna-bes to your side, spread the myth of inevitability, and then, oops: Russians. Or in this case, Kurds.

    The advance comes to a stop. The red areas on the map stop growing, and start shrinking. Enemies once unprepared begin to nibble at your flanks – North Africa, 1942-3. Next comes the larger, more co-ordinated counterattacks from the Americans and the Brits and the Russians. (Or the Americans, the Kurds, the Brits, the French, the Dutch, the Iranians, the Saudis and Emiratis, and even the Iraqis.)

    You know, Hitler wasn’t beaten in 1945, he was beaten in 1943. It just took two years for it to sink in.

    People who go on about the limitations of air power need to realize that while air power can’t take territory, it sure as hell can keep someone else from taking territory, especially in the desert. If every time you form a column for attack the column gets blown up, it’s kind of hard to get anywhere. That’s where ISIS is now. They are a land force without air power being battered by the world’s greatest air force.

    They’ve maybe got some crazy stab at a game-changer — too late now — otherwise they’re just wandering around waiting to die. Apparently at least 100 ISIS members have figured that out.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Michael:

    We’ll see. I’m not sure we have the Sitzfleisch for containing ISIL.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    We don’t, but I don’t think we need to. We only needed to stop them – and we’ll have to stay in for another couple of years, but we can manage that. The Iraqis, Syrians, Jordanians, Kurds and time itself will finish them. It was an opportunistic infection. We were the antibiotic, but in the longer term the local immune systems will manage things. Those countries and regimes will fall eventually, but I don’t think it will be to ISIS.

  7. Rex Crouch says:

    Can we QUIT calling it ISIL or ISIS and just call it what it is. We are fighting Islam. Islam is not a religion. Islam is a cult Yes, Muslims pray, they face Mecca five times per day and pray to Mecca. Mecca is a place, it’s not a god. Once in their lives, the Muslims must go to Mecca. While at Mecca they face the center of the mosque and pray to the big stone in the middle. They call the big stone Allah. Islam is a Stone Worshiping Cult. When we quit treating Islam like a religion and treat it as the cult it is, then we can begin to cure the problem.

  8. bill says:

    did obama say “read my lips, no ground troops”- or something like that? of course we knew that was not a truthful statement then, but it’s not newsworthy either as i haven’t seen it anywhere else.

  9. anjin-san says:

    @bill:

    So basically, you are just another conservative that is unhappy that Obama is killing terrorists, no?

  10. michael reynolds says:

    @bill:

    Oh shuddup.

    @Rex Crouch:

    We’re at war with more than a billion people in what, 30 or so countries? I’m pretty sure we’re going to need a bigger army for that. You paying the taxes for that? Because I feel like I’m paying enough.

    Listen, genius: the Kurds who are fighting and winning this war for us are Muslims.

  11. anjin-san says:

    @Rex Crouch:

    We are fighting Islam

    Looks to me like you are commenting on a blog, not fighting. Maybe you can detail the steps you are taking to get into this fight you feel so strongly about.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    Can we QUIT calling it ISIL or ISIS and just call it what it is. We are fighting Islam. Islam is not a religion. Islam is a cult Yes, Muslims pray, they face Mecca five times per day and pray to Mecca. Mecca is a place, it’s not a god. Once in their lives, the Muslims must go to Mecca. While at Mecca they face the center of the mosque and pray to the big stone in the middle. They call the big stone Allah. Islam is a Stone Worshiping Cult. When we quit treating Islam like a religion and treat it as the cult it is, then we can begin to cure the problem.

    Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and just about every other religion in the world could be picked apart and classified as a cult…

  13. wr says:

    @Rex Crouch: “I am stupid” only requires typing eleven keys, and completely sums up everything you said in that endless screed.

  14. CB says:

    @Rex Crouch:

    They call the big stone Allah.

    LOL

    Idiot.

  15. lounsbury says:

    @Rex Crouch:
    No, you’re not, although it does rather seem some back woods sub-literate provincials in USA, afflicted with a neo-medievalesque theology not really terribly different than the also-backwoods sub-literate takfiri provincials, believe so.

    Theologically Islam is a much cleaner monotheism than Christianity – rather closer to the fairly pure monotheism of the late Jewish belief system – and is no more stone-worshipping than Catholics are idol-worshippers due to saints’ statues.

  16. michael reynolds says:

    Interesting update:

    Since June, the U.S. military has been slowly stockpiling massive amounts of its gear coming out of Afghanistan at a depot in Kuwait adjacent to a bustling commercial port, in preparation for ultimately shipping it across the border into Iraq for an allied offensive against the Islamic State group.

    So we’re replacing the toys the Iraqi Army handed over to ISIS and which we are now blowing up at great expense.

    Maybe this time the Iraqis will actually shoot someone with the tanks we give them.

  17. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: Ummmm…. I wouldn’t count on that.

  18. Barry says:

    @anjin-san: “Several ‘high-value’ ISIS leaders killed in Iraq, Pentagon officials say”

    This is something I don’t trust, because (a) we have no confirmation and (b) it’d require excellent intelligence on the part of the US, knowing both exactly where people were *and* that their loss would seriously hurt ISIS.

  19. Barry says:

    @Dave Schuler: “We’ll see. I’m not sure we have the Sitzfleisch for containing ISIL. ”

    Why the heck would we need that? We’ve got what appears to be a working plan.