‘We’ll probably see more American boots on the ground in Iraq’

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter talks to troops from the 82nd Airborne Division at the Baghdad International Airport in Baghdad on July 23, 2015. © Carolyn Kaster
ISIS guerrillas are going to go back into the Iraqi cities and fight guerrilla warfare, so it’s going to be a long slog and there are no local ground forces to adequately fight the terrorists, says Ivan Eland, US senior defense analyst from the Independent Institute.

There are currently about 3,600 US military staff in Iraq in training and military support roles. Earlier this week, US officials said “hundreds, not thousands” more will be dispatched shortly. However, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter himself vowed on Thursday that the numbers would “increase greatly as the momentum of the effort increases.”

The reason for this latest surge is the planned offensive against Raqqa, the location of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) headquarters in Syria, and Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city, which has also been overrun by IS.

RT:  What do you think will be included in the "enabling" of Iraqi security forces?

Ivan Eland: This is a significant amount of troops and I think we’re on the escalation path back into Iraq and now Syria, of course. And so this is just one more incremental step in escalation and unfortunately that’s how countries get bogged down in places. They put in a few troops, get their prestige on the line, and if that doesn’t work in solving the problem, people ask: Well, what’s next? Of course, there’s always more troops, and I think this is just another step in a series of escalations, unfortunately.

RT:  How do you explain the timing of the decision - the US has been fighting for over a year. Why now?

IE:  They are trying to get the Syrian peace talks going and I think they want to have more skin in the game, so to speak. So I think that’s a factor. They are having trouble with those talks, but I think they will get more leverage. The other thing is that they’ve had some battlefield success in taking back Ramadi [from Islamic State forces], and I think they would like to capitalize on that.

But I think this is going to take years because these ISIS guerrillas are going to move to ground and go back into the cities and fight guerrilla warfare, so it’s going to be a long slog and I’m afraid there are no local ground forces so you’ll probably see more American boots on the ground before long.

RT:  The U.S. has investigated the deaths of civilians in its airstrikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq and has said that sixteen people have been killed since the campaign began. Can we trust these internal investigations?

IE: Well, I think the count of civilians [fatalities] is always more than people say. No matter what country does airstrikes, you may be killing some terrorists but you really can’t kill your way out of an insurgency like this. If you are going to kill your way out of, you have to do it on the ground with the local forces who can go house-to-house and who have good intelligence about who’s a guerilla and who’s not. You don’t want foreign powers - especially non-Muslim foreign powers, doing it in this case. And when you’re bombing you’re actually making more terrorists because you do inadvertently hit civilians… and of course that makes the population madder and you’re liable to get more terrorists than less. And the ones that you kill, they’re usually replaced in the hothouse of war by even more ruthless people because the more ruthless stay alive.

RT:  American media reported last week that the U.S. was willing to accept up to 50 civilian casualties per airstrike. How are such things calculated?

IE: Well, the key thing is the wording. They say they are ‘willing to accept,’ but then they claim that they haven’t killed that many. But you can see that when there’s a war on that’s the problem that I’ve just mentioned: Even if you’re attempting to hit legitimate military targets – and I’m not trying to say the US military is intentionally trying to target civilians… but they [civilians] may join up with the insurgency.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.