This post first appeared on the blog Point of Decision.
As I write this, the U.S. military is involved in armed and lethal operations in Iraq and Syria. While not officially a war, it is the most significant and — I hate to use the word — kinetic operation the military is involved in. Why then, as a member of that military, do I feel as though I have literally no idea what is going on?
Obviously, it is because I am not a direct part of current operations.However, in 2001 and 2003, when U.S. military operations began in Afghanistan and Iraq, any service member could easily identify the task, purpose, and mission. Is it because Operation Inherent Resolve isn’t a large enough operation to merit the kind of publicity that comes with the larger military interventions?
Right now, there are approximately 3,500 U.S. troops in Iraq. The exact number is hard to determine, even as units such as the 10th Mountain Division are deploying troops to Iraq for Operation Inherent Resolve. The Air Force and Navy have been very active in execution of the primary response to Daesh — airstrikes. In fact, the only easily acquired information on the U.S. response in Iraq and Syria come from the press releases that Central Command (CENTCOM) publishes. These press releases highlight things such as restricting the terrorist group’s freedom of movement, destruction of key Daesh facilities or leaders, and snapshots of the operations efforts, such as this one:
While this gives the public a vague certainty that something is being done, it provides no context for the statistics or where they fit in to a larger strategy or line of effort (overlooking the recent boondoggle concerning intelligence estimates being padded). It is harder still to find a defined mission statement that says what our task and purpose are. The best I could find is literally off of the Facebook page for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR): “The CJTF-OIR is united to build the military coalition to support Iraqi Security Force operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).”
Hey, at least it is a somewhat achievable mission.
Debates over the efficacy of the U.S. operations are ongoing, but even more basic than that is the confusion and uncertainty that exists within the force over what OIR is doing or what the endstate is. We all have friends that are prepping for possible deployments in support of that mission, which makes this even more disconcerting. All unformed personnel have the chance of getting deployed to Iraq; wouldn’t it be the least thing to do to provide an overall concrete mission for this operation?
Since writing this, the following article came out via The Daily Beast, essentially outlining that the military operations in Iraq and Syria are confused and ineffectual. Only four to five U.S. trained rebel fighters remain in Syria, while the Pentagon is finally admitting that airstrikes are not proving effective as they thought. All agree that there is no strategy. This has been in response to the ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the resistance to repeating those conflicts. However, in doing so, the pendulum has swung the other way. Risk aversion is the name of the game. Taking risk is how wars are won; without risk, one might as well pack it in and save the taxpayers some money.
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