America Can Succeed Militarily in the Mideast. ISIS’s Defeat in Mosul Tells Us How. By David Ignatius - Washington Post
What lessons can we take from the Islamic State’s defeat in Mosul and its coming eviction from Raqqa? The collapse of the caliphate tells us that the United States can succeed militarily in the Middle East if — and probably only if — it works with local forces who are prepared to do the fighting and dying.
Where the massive U.S. ground campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade and a half became expensive exercises in frustration, the war against the Islamic State has been far less costly in money and American lives — and also more successful. Amazingly, over the past three years, just five Americans have been killed in action in Syria and Iraq, according to the U.S. military.
The overall human toll has been horrific, even if Americans haven’t been paying the price. A triumphal Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi proclaimed victory in Mosul on Monday, but pictures of the city showed a devastated wasteland of pulverized buildings. We may never know how many thousands of civilians lie under the rubble.
Because the U.S. footprint and casualty levels have been so modest, to Americans this war has mostly been out of sight, out of mind. But it’s worth examining how the strategy has worked militarily — and to recognize the lack of any corresponding political strategy, which may well cause problems down the road.
The American campaign has been built around Special Operations forces. The SOF slogan has been that the battle must be waged “by, with and through” local partners. That has meant training, equipping and advising Iraqi and Syrian soldiers — then providing them with air support that has relentlessly pounded the enemy.
The most brutally efficient part of the campaign has been the secret “capture or kill” strikes by the United States and some of its partners. In simple terms, when the United States has had actionable intelligence about a terrorist operative, it has tried to take that person off the battlefield.
The marriage of local ground forces with U.S. drones, warplanes and intelligence has been potent…