The Battle for Ramadi: Acid Test for Obama Doctrine
Tuesday, Dec. 22, as 10,000 US-trained Iraqi soldiers went into battle to drive 600 Islamic State fighters out of the city of Ramadi, Gen. Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for the Iraqi counterterrorism unit leading the charge, said confidently: “We went into the city center from different axes, and we started clearing residential areas. The city will be cleared in 72 hours.”
Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was back in Iraq for the second time in a week, this time arriving in Irbil, capital of the Kurdish autonomous region. He wanted to make sure that Kurdish peshmerga forces would block any Islamic State reinforcements on their way from Raqqa, their Syrian headquarters, to the Ramadi battle arena.
Last weekend, US generals were stunned to discover that, ahead of the battle, several hundred ISIS fighters had slipped past US and Russian surveillance and reached Iraq from Syria.
(Note DEBKA Weekly 689 of Dec. 11: “How ISIS Evades Air Strikes”)
They brought their beleaguered comrades new supplies of arms and ammo and even evacuated sick and wounded combatants before taking their place.
Carter was anxious to ward off any more unpleasant surprises, because President Barack Obama views the Ramadi operation as the test of his doctrine, which is to leave the fight against ISIS to regional armies and keep US and Western boots off the ground.
Russian President Vladimir Putin shares this principle with regard to Russian troops in Syria and Iraq.
The operational plan drawn up by the Pentagon and US Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida awarded the Iraqi army the lead role for driving ISIS forces out of central Ramadi and gave them an overwhelming advantage in numbers: 16 Iraqi soldiers for every ISIS fighter.
The US air force and the pro-Iranian Shiite militias were cast in supporting roles, such as artillery or aerial attacks.
But even if the combined offensive succeeds, the planners know that their victory will be incomplete because of the formidable ISIS strategy for fighting on after defeat. In Tikrit and the Baiji refinery town, the jihadists sowed the towns’ ground surface with mines and remotely detonated explosive trucks and roadside bombs, while hiding themselves in deep, interconnected tunnels, from which they spring for night raids.
Those tunnel systems have defied every Iraqi army or local militia attempt to destroy them, forcing the “liberated” towns to live with a hidden jihadist presence lurking somewhere under their feet.