Comparing the US-led Mosul Operation with Russia’s Intervention in Aleppo

The similarities between the US-led offensive in Mosul and the Russian-backed operation in Aleppo are less striking than their differences. A comparison by DEBKA Weekly’s military experts is highly instructive.
One aspect they have in common is that both are hanging on to the reins of a pack of contentious local armies.
For the operation to cleanse the Iraqi town of Mosul of its two-year ISIS occupation, the United States is struggling to hold together a disparate core coalition of at least six armies: Iraqi Kurdish, Sunni, Shiite, Turkmen, and Christian Assyrians.
Russia leads a comparable number of combatant forces, but here the similarities stop. Three of those forces are outsiders come to support the Syrian army, i.e., Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the Lebanese Hizballah and pro-Iranian Shiites from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The most conspicuous feature of the US-led Mosul offensive is its cumbersome, sluggish motion.
The coalition forces advancing on the city from the south, east and north follow a predictable pattern that recalls the world wars of the 20th century. They rely heavily on US air support, largely because, except for a handful of Iraqi government units, they are fighting with antiquated weapons dating from the 90s, have no artillery units of their own and insufficient tanks for the task. Even the elite Iraqi “Golden Division” is only armed with light tanks.
DEBKA Weekly reports that most military experts expected the offensive to take off with a spectacular rapid, blitzkrieg that would stun the enemy. But the opening shots were tame. Even America’s “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq in 2003 was more audacious and fast-moving.
The Russian commanders are judged to be more firmly in control of the Aleppo contingents than their US counterparts in Mosul. They are also clear about the mission before them, which is to tighten the siege on the rebel strongholds in the eastern suburbs until they can be smashed or evicted – with Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Islamic Nusra Front, singled out for eradication.
The American commanders in contrast don’t seem quite clear about whether they are required to destroy the Islamic State’s forces. Their war plan seems to stop short at the liberation of Mosul, without necessarily going on to articulate whether the liberators should go on to finally eclipse the Islamic terrorist group.
The original plan floated by the Pentagon in Washington after many weeks of toil centered on maintaining a suffocating noose around Mosul until ISIS was brought to its knees. That plan appears to have evaporated in the upsets of the first week of combat, raising questions in Washington about what is going on instead.
Here, too, the contrast is strong. Russian officers have not given an inch of slack in their tight siege on Syrian rebel forces in Aleppo.
This compares starkly with the falling-out between Washington and Baghdad over the key Ba’aj road, a 500km route that appears on no map, but which serves ISIS-Mosul as its link and supply route to ISIS headquarters in Raqqa. US commanders’ messages to Baghdad to send Iraqi government forces to urgently block this vital road link ran into a flat refusal.
There are also tactical differences in the way the two powers use their air might.
US officers in the Mosul arena have been applying air strikes to break ISIS resistance in the dozens of small towns and villages around the main city and so clear the way for Iraqi armor, the Kurdish Peshmerga and special forces to advance on the city.
US warplanes go into action only when called upon for assistance – which means they are not wielded for strategic goals.
In Aleppo, the Russian air force is first on the scene of a battle, clearing the terrain and blazing a trail for the ground forces before they go into action.

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