Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Quick Update: Advances Against ISIS, and What to Expect in Tikrit

Readers keep telling me they love the maps, so you get maps and a bit of "implications." We'll also touch very briefly on Tikrit.

1) Kurdish forces out of Kobane have successfully pressed ISIS out of the space west of Kobane by trapping them against the river/lake and eliminating them. They've made modest progress in the east but I think we can expect the Kurdish forces to shift a bit south, but mostly east, to capture Tall Abyad crossing and cut off a supply line for ISIS from Turkey.


2) In northeast Sryia, ISIS has totally collapsed. That huge box on the right was all formerly ISIS, right up to the southern edge of that big red blotch (government fighters). It appears the Kurds and government troops have a truce, which has allowed them to push out. There is likely a bit of a "race" to secure space around Hasakah between Peshmerga and government forces. We also see in the western box that Kurdish forces have successfully crossed a river and are assaulting villages there, likely hoping to scoop up the smattering of black just to the south.


3) From the department of "great things come in small packages," the Kurds have successfully captured the roadway and villages around the bridge where Route 1 crosses the Tigris, cutting Mosul off from its most direct western supply line. This is a form of kicking the proverbial hornet's nest that may bring ISIS fighters out of dug-in fortifications to try to take the highway back. They're going to have plenty of time--Iraqi forces will be bogged down in Tikrit for a while.


4) Iraqi forces are probably trying to encircle Ramadi by taking villages to its north (lower-left box) and have entered Tikrit. In Tikrit, government forces are similarly trying to encircle the city before moving in, and are being slowed down by roadside/car bombs and suicide bombers. The little black dot south of Tikrit is being shelled at time of writing, and the dot to the north of Tikrit is being de-bombed.

Once Tikrit is surrounded, it may take up to a month to move in and finish off ISIS forces. Iraq is sporting 25,000 troops between regulars, Shiite militias, and Sunni militias. They likely outnumber ISIS forces 10:1--but just remember that Iraqi forces had similar odds when they were overrun in Mosul last summer.


Iran is supporting this operation rather than the US, which means no air support. It's clearly not an experiment ("can Iraqi forces handle this on their own?")--now's just not the time to be having such experiments, as Tikrit is probably the junior varsity version of trying to take Mosul.

What's more likely--I think--is that Iraq and Iran are going alone, without US "permission." Iraq has been frustrated with coalition support and it's possible (though I have predicted otherwise) that the US announcement of the Mosul offensive created some distrust--Iraq may have decided that the US couldn't be trusted with the intel.

Evidence suggests the US wasn't even told about the offensive--a US general said that the offensive was "no surprise," which is very different from saying "we're in the loop."

It'll be great news if Iraq can take Tikrit without US air support, though there are huge complications with making this a "Shiite" operation--Shiite militia abuse is a big part of why ISIS was able to get traction in western Iraq in the first place.

But we'll deal with that another time.
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