I’m intrigued by press accounts coming out of Mosul of yet another government offensive — more precisely, by the amount of buzz this is generating. LAT reports that residents were “caught off guard” by the operation, called Lion’s Roar, while over at Abu Muqawama, Dr. iRack outlines competing theories of why here and why now.
It all sounds cool, but here’s the thing: despite the sexy name, this is probably just a glorified cordon and search. I was in Mosul recently and came back with the feeling that while the city remains totally screwed in terms of infrastructure and security, it is definitely not under insurgent control, foreign or local. The violence is fleeting and the perpetrators elusive. Their favourite MO is suicide by explosion, not fighting back from fixed positions. By nature, then, military operations in Mosul tend to be tedious affairs with a lot of knocking on banged-up steel gates and zip-tieing angry young men.
There isn’t much by way of COIN going on there. Basically, the 3rd ACR in the west and the 1-8 in the east provide overwatch while the Iraqis drink chai and get blown up. Sure, they’ve built a string of COPs in bad neighborhoods, but whether one can say al-Qaeda is on the run remains highly doubtful, particularly since by their nature they’re kind of always on the run. With basic services non-existent, trash piling up on streets, no clean water, and power out most of the time, and with the fringes of the city taken over by jobless IDPs, Mosul is more a human stinkpot and a giant political failure than (I wish they’d stop calling it that…) “the last urban hub of al-Qaeda in Iraq”.
Also, I find it ironic that of all places Mosul — the city that made Petraeus — should be the one where there is least effort in trying to win over a hostile population. Putting heavily armoured U.S. units, with massive air power at their disposal, in the middle of an unruly urban sprawl is kinda inviting disaster. The guys pulling mind-numbing OP duty, or doing dismounts with their sphincters permanently cramped, tend to respond to the slightest provocation with all they’ve got. Hellfires end up being put into houses and tank rounds used as insurance, and when you see someone suspicious running on a contested stretch of road you take him out with your coax without thinking twice.
I don’t want to blame soldiers for what they’ve been taught to do, and sure, life was cheap in Mosul even before the cavalry arrived. But jeez, does it have to be this cheap…?
QED: “U.S. forces killed two gunmen and two civilians near the northern city of Mosul on Saturday. The U.S. military said its forces were following suspected associates of an al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist and fired on a vehicle, killing two armed men, a woman and a child. The military says it regrets the deaths of the civilians.”