The Fall of Ramadi

The unbearable lightness of the anti-ISIS coalition’s airstrikes.

This past week, the ISIS terrorist army kicked off its final assault into the Iraqi city of Ramadi by sending six jihadis to blow themselves up in cars next to the Iraqi Army (IA) front lines.  The horde then pushed through the city center, sending IA forces to flee, and entered the government headquarters for all of Anbar Province.  Soon the ISIS black flag was snapping smartly in the wind over the capital buildings.  Apparently uninterested in future administration, ISIS later set fire to the compound for good measure.

True to form, ISIS then opted to take the central city residents prisoner, confiscating their cell phones and publicly executing more than 50 tribal fighters who had opposed them.

A police officer who fled told McClatchy news service reporter Mitchell Prothero that the people fleeing “are begging anyone to save them after the Iraqi government abandoned them because of fears that the Daesh will massacre their sons.”  IA officials have now ordered the ragtag troops and some civilians into a soccer stadium on the outskirts of Ramadi for helicopter evacuation.

An Anbar provincial official, Sabah Karhout, implored Baghdad for reinforcements and he urged the U.S.-led coalition to increase its airstrikes against the terrorists in Ramadi.  “The city is undergoing vicious attack by Daesh and we are in dire need of any kind of assistance,” Karhout declared.

Mr. Karhout can be forgiven for thinking that the Coalition might not be entirely serious about stopping the horde’s advance across the entire provincial capital.  For over the last three days, at least according to CENTCOM’s own website, only two airstrikes have been conducted on ISIS “near” Ramadi.  These “struck an ISIL tactical unit and an ISIL fighting position.”  That’s it: two strikes, two bombs, two positions—nothing else.  For all intents and purposes, Ramadi is on its own.

There is something almost perfunctory and haphazard about the Coalition’s Operation Inherent Resolve, something divorced from operational realities on the ground.  Yes, we bomb individual ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, but not as part of any coordinated effort with the Iraqi security forces.  It seems rather that the free forces in Iraq and Syria are left to fight their battles, while we separately bomb a few targets across both countries that our intelligence services declare to be ISIS.  Our bombing, called Operation Inherent Resolve, bears no relation to the kinetic intensity of any particular ISIS battlefield.  It has nothing to do with where the action is.  Over the last several months, ISIS has massed its forces into taking the strategically important large city of Ramadi, and it is Ramadi where the Coalition should have been concentrating its efforts.

Victorious coalitions in history did not randomly bomb targets of opportunity; they bypassed targets that didn’t directly assist in the overall strategy for victory.  In World War II, General MacArthur famously sent his armies “island-hopping” across the Pacific, bypassing any conquest of islands, no matter how many Japanese troops were present on them, which failed to conform to the ultimate goal of defeating Imperial Japan.

In the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, General Tommy Franks also bypassed cities, many packed with Iraqi Army reinforcements, that were not essential to the regime’s center of gravity in Baghdad.  Anything else would have been a waste of time and human life.

Rather than randomly prowling over the deserts to find ISIS tents and trucks, CENTCOM should be focusing on supporting a definable strategy to actually defeat the enemy, and one that is coordinated with the Iraqi government’s own fight for survival on the ground.  Perhaps it is too much to ask that a politicized Defense Department follow this basic rule of war.  But is it not truly odd that no one in the international media thinks to ask these questions?

Christopher S. Carson, a lawyer, holds a master’s in National Security Studies.

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