Thursday 22 February 2018

US backtracks on bid to help Iraqis retake city of Mosul

A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stands guard, overlooking the road between Mosul and Tal Afar at the frontline of Eski Mosul
A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stands guard, overlooking the road between Mosul and Tal Afar at the frontline of Eski Mosul

Ruth Sherlock

Only hours after announcing a major new ground offensive to retake Iraq's second city, the US was forced to admit yesterday it is unlikely to be able to train enough troops in time.

US Central Command initially told reporters in Washington it was preparing between 20,000 and 25,000 Iraqi troops for an offensive on Mosul to take place as early as April or May.

Revealing the details of the onslaught for the first time, a senior US military official said five Iraqi brigades would form the main attack force against the jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) who currently occupy the city.

These would be accompanied by Iraqi counterterrorism troops, trained by US special operations, and three smaller brigades of Iraqi reserve forces.

It also laid out plans for a "Mosul fighting force", made up of local policemen and members of nearby tribes, who would stabilise the city once Isil was pushed out.

The Kurdish Peshmerga would then protect Mosul's northern and western flanks. But what appeared to be a comprehensive plan that would see much of Iraq's military rebuilt after it melted away in the face of Isil last June, quickly began to unravel.

With fewer than two months to go before the operation was due to begin, the US admitted it has so far only trained a fraction of the required soldiers.

An official at US Central Command said coalition troops have so far only trained "approximately 3,400 Iraqi troops".

Many of these have received only the initial "bootcamp" training; a six-to-eight week course for new recruits designed to teach them the very basics of combat.

The US is in the process of deploying 3,000 military advisors to as many as eight training locations, as part of a $1.2bn (€1bn) American train-and-equip programme to help the Iraqi army. But the programmes have got off to a difficult start.

In Camp Taji, one of the main training centres, recruits were, as recently as January, being trained mostly without weapons because the bulk of their equipment had been entangled in "Iraqi bureaucracy", according to the 'Washington Post'. When asked how the US intended to launch the operation given the current dearth of soldiers, the spokesman said the assault could be delayed.

"May is just an initial goal. If senior leaders do not feel that by then they are in a position where they can be successful, they can change it."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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