Iraq: Mission Creep?

Friday’s announcement of another 1,500 troops committed to the “train and assist” mission in Iraq was generally categorized or questioned as “mission creep”. Saturday morning, Col. Rick Francona on CNN, reported that those 1,500 troops are already in Kuwait; simply meaning that the decision to increase the force footprint was taken some time ago. As always, the politics of the situation determines the venue for communication, in this case as in many others, after an election.

Mission creep is a misnomer. A more accurate description of the situation would be “mission catch up.” Literally dozens of analysts opined that the original phase up to 1,500 troops was entirely insufficient to the stated mission; degrade and destroy.

This additional deployment represents a range of possible motivations the most significant being the grudging realization that the President’s decision regarding Iraq was highly flawed from the beginning and that he overruled military advisors in the interest of … wait for it, surprise! Politics! Has someone threatened to resign? Has the effort against ISIS failed to generate the expected results? Has the Free Syrian Army devolved to the point of insignificance based on their recent drubbing? Are Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States jumping up and down and stamping their feet over U.S. policy? In the last case we already know the answer is yes, beginning with the non-policy related to Syria.

All of a sudden, in two months’ time, the Iraqi Army has gone from falling apart to being ready to go out there and fight the good fight. According to Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon spokesman, the surge in Iraqi motivation justifies the increased commitment. In the same briefing Kirby also stated that “a major Iraqi offensive against ISIL will take some time.” Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops, despite their new sense of motivation and U.S. equipment need more time. The Kurds didn’t need more time, armed with only limited stockpiles of small arms. “Mission catch up’ likely also requires a change in the rules of engagement (ROE) from the air as the Obama administration has famously micro managed the ROE’s in Afghanistan, reportedly resulting in increased casualties.

We may recall the “Powell Doctrine” which called for engaging a series of questions that when answered in the affirmative may result in engaging the enemy but only with overwhelming force. That is a lesson of history both decades and millennium old. Overwhelming force, operational velocity and political commitment reduces casualties.

The thought of ever more American troops in Iraq is troubling and is clearly the result of politics over cogent policy and anticipatory planning. However, the thought of a medieval terror state in the Middle East is and should be of even greater concern.