Coinciding with the news that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is set to resign his post on Monday are developments in Iraq that indicate the fighting between ISIS and Iraqi Security Forces continues to rage virtually unchecked. Last week, Islamic State forces descended on the outskirts of Anbar Province’s capital of Ramadi where they undertook what observers believe is an assault on the city.
“The fighting started Friday after ISIS militants launched a coordinated assault from different directions around the city. At least 37 people have died in the fighting, authorities said,” CNN reported.
Over the weekend, Iraqi forces aligned with anti-ISIS Sunni fighters mounted a counterattack designed to retake portions of that city seized by Islamic State militants. Reports indicate that Iraqi fighters have enjoyed some successes in their effort to repel ISIS from that key city.
America’s role in preventing Ramadi from falling to ISIS has already been embraced by the administration, despite the personnel shakeup at the top of the Defense Department.
“Earlier this month, an American advisory mission visited Anbar’s al-Asad air base, searching for potential training locations for fighters battling the Islamic State group, which holds a third of both Iraq and Syria,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “The move is part of a U.S. plan to train Iraqi forces and Sunni tribesmen, reminiscent of the Sunni Awakening movement that confronted al Qaeda in Iraq starting in 2006.”
“The U.S. launched airstrikes in Iraq on Aug. 8, and a number of countries have since joined in an effort to reinforce Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces fighting the Islamic State group,” The Journal continued. “The U.S. is also part of a coalition of Arab allies that launched strikes in Syria.”
According to The Christian Science Monitor, the Pentagon is determined to arm theIraqi tribes that can be counted on to fight ISIS in order to bolster the faltering Iraqi Security Forces.
The Pentagon plans to buy a range of arms for Iraq’s tribesmen, including 5,000 AK-47s, 50 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 12,000 grenades and 50 82 mm mortars. The arms supply, described in a document that will be sent to Congress of its approval, said the estimated cost to equip an initial Anbar-based force of tribal fighters is $18.5 million, part of a $1.6 billion request to Congress that includes arming and training Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
“Failure to equip these forces mean a less effective armed opposition to counter the Islamic State and its ability to gain the local support necessary to effectively control the areas it holds,” the document said.
The next Secretary of Defense will have their hands full with not only the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but also meeting the challenges posed by revanchist powers like China and Russia. At least, the confirmation process in the next GOP-controlled Congress is likely to be smooth as silk.