'Quick end Mosul op or US & Iraq will have egg on their face'

We are possibly seeing a move from an incoherent strategy regarding ISIS in Syria and Iraq under Obama to something which puts the priority on crushing ISIS and not regime change in Syria, says political analyst Chris Bambery.

According to the commander of US forces in Iraq and Syria Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, US soldiers are now fighting alongside Iraqis near the front lines against Islamic State. 

"It is true that we are operating closer and deeper into the Iraqi formation," Townsend told reporters traveling with Secretary of Defense James Mattis. "We adjusted our posture during the east Mosul fight and embedded advisers a bit further down into the formation," he added.

RT: What do you think this development means for the Mosul operation and for America's overall involvement in Iraq?

Chris Bambery: First of all, the Mosul operation has taken far longer than we were led to believe and there has been a significant delay in capturing the city. This may be an attempt to ginger up the offensive on Mosul and bring this operation to an end. It does need to be brought to an end, given the statements which have been made by Baghdad and indeed in Washington about the imminent recapture of the city. The other factor which I think might be in here as well - it is not just simply targeting ISIS in Mosul but also ensuring the military operation is carried through in the main by the Iraqi army backed up by American forces through the exclusion of the Iranians and the Shia militias, which the West believes are led by Iranians. It could also have been an attempt to keep those out of the final capture of Mosul.

RT: US Defense Secretary Mattis said the rules of engagement for the US troops in Iraq haven't changed. Is that possible considering how close they claim to be to the frontlines?

CB: The rules of engagement are very flexible. You are there in an advisory capacity supposedly, what happens if you come under attack? Obviously, you fight back. And we should remember, this is essentially how the American operations in Vietnam started because originally they were there in an advisory and educational capacity. And they got drawn in. So, I think there will be some concern in the US about the possibility of American troops being pulled further and further into ground operations in Iraq given the legacy, the nightmare of the Iraq invasion in 2003 and the influence that it still has on public opinion in the US.

RT: President Trump gave his generals 30 days to come up with a plan to destroy ISIS. If he is presented with a plan that would involve boots on the ground taking part in combat, do you think he will go with it? And what about Congress, will it approve such a plan?

CB: I think it is going to be interesting with really the whole Obama administration’s policy in Syria, in particular, was incoherent. In Iraq a bit less so, but Americans obviously have an open presence in Iraq, they have a presence in Syria, too, we should remember – British, and American Special Forces operate there. I think what we need to watch is what President Trump’s strategy is going to be. In the campaign, he threatened to eliminate ISIS as a force in the region. And how is he going to pull through in that? And that could mean, of course, further American involvement in the operation to take Mosul. Really, this operation has to be brought to a conclusion. Otherwise, both the Baghdad administration and the administration in Washington are going to end up with some egg on their face because we’ve heard so much talk that Mosul is about to fall, and we are still not there yet...

I think what we are seeing is that we are possibly moving from what was an incoherent strategy in regard to so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq under Obama to something which might be more coherent, which puts the priority on crushing of so-called ISIS and not regime change in Syria which often seemed to be a priority for the Obama administration.

‘US has to plan better this time’

The US has gone into Iraq several times, “and every time they have to withdraw, and chaos seems to follow in the wake,” Annie Machon, a former MI5 intelligence officer told RT.

Even the rise of ISIS itself came about because the Americans did withdraw under Obama from Iraq. Disenfranchised and disillusioned Baathists then merged with Al-Qaeda and jihadists to create…ISIS. So, if they go in, and if they have quick result…and do crush ISIS in Mosul and then withdraw without any proper aid and rebuilding program to help [Prime Minister] Al-Abadi in Iraq, we might see the whole cycle start again. They need to plan better this time,” Machon said.

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