Unmark your calendars: Mosul liberation postponed indefinitely

Old and busted: Open-source war planningNew hotness: Strategic incoherence! A week ago, the Pentagon briefed reporters on the plan to retake Mosul from ISIS in April using mainly Iraqi Army troops, down to the timing of the attack and a rough estimate of the numbers and types of troops needed to accomplish the job. Just seven days later, the Department of Defense pushed off the date until autumn … if then. A DoD source told The Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef that, er, they’ve belatedly discovered that Iraqi troops aren’t ready now, and probably won’t be ready for months:

The U.S. military’s goal to retake Iraq’s second largest city from the self-proclaimed Islamic State has been pushed back several months at least, defense officials told The Daily Beast. That’s a major shift for the Pentagon, which recently announced that the first major ground offensive in the war against ISIS could come in the next few weeks.

Defense officials once hoped that Iraqi troops could move into Mosul by the Spring and reclaim the city from ISIS. Now, those officials say, Fall is more realistic. And even that date was tenuous.

“It is an Iraqi decision but we don’t want to do anything until they are ready and can win decisively,” a military official explained to the Daily Beast. “They cannot now.”

So … did the Iraqis change their mind, or did the US fail to ask them in the first place? One would think that the Pentagon would have coordinated with their Iraqi counterparts before making the singularly strange decision to announce a major offensive would take place a few weeks ahead of time, along with the number of forces to be deployed. For that matter, the US military should have known the capabilities of the Iraqi army, too. If the Iraqis couldn’t win decisively now, shouldn’t the Pentagon have known that? Did anyone think to consider that before last week’s public bravado?

This can’t fill the captives of Mosul with a lot of confidence, either:

It’s another sign that the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS isn’t going nearly as smoothly as the American government had hoped. At the Pentagon Friday, Defense Department spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby shied away from any kind of timeline, saying: “I can’t put a date certain…nor say April is out.”

Rather, he suggested that the Iraqi forces were not imminently ready for such an offensive.

“I don’t think we are there yet,” Kirby said. “There are gaps and seams that need to be closed.”

This brings up two serious questions about leadership of this war. First, who made the decision to not just leak but brief the media in detail on a planned major offensive against ISIS? It goes against everything known about operational security and the necessity of maintaining elements of surprise. It’s no secret that the Iraqis want Mosul back, of course, but announcing that they’ll throw 25,000 troops against it two months from now gave ISIS plenty of time to move their own assets to meet the threat. It also eliminated the ability to use feints to throw them off the true objective, a basic military strategy that keeps an enemy from focusing all their defenses on one place at one specific point in time.

In fact, that question raises another: cui bono? Who and what benefits from going public with that plan? It’s not the military, which loses all those advantages and therefore will suffer heavier losses than necessary. It’s certainly not the people of Mosul, who will see even more oppression and genocide in preparation to hold the city. Why do this at all? The only benefit accrues to the politicians who are struggling mightily, as Youssef points out, to claim that the war effort is going “smoothly.” At the time this got “leaked,” a CBS poll showed that Americans had shifting significantly on the war, with a 57% majority now wanting American ground troops to go into Iraq and Syria to destroy ISIS. This leak pushed back against the swelling realization that our current strategy is failing by claiming the Iraqi army was ready to stand up and do the job — a ridiculous claim, given that the same army had just been routed from defensive positions in Mosul and all across western and northern Iraq just a few months earlier.

The phantom Mosul offensive is a failure of leadership. If someone at the Pentagon doesn’t get cashiered over it, then we can safely assume that the failure lies above their pay grade.