It’s also unclear what kind will be useful. “Air strikes,” mentioned reflexively by Western media and U.S. officials, may be of very limited value, given the fluid, guerrilla nature of the ISIS enemy. ISIS doesn’t garrison its force in big camps, or park lots of vehicles at maintenance depots to get the taxpayer the most for his logistics dollar. Nor are ISIS’s weapons stored or transported in well-understood and vulnerable ways. The gut-wrenching reality is that the more of Iraq ISIS occupies, the more Iraqi infrastructure may have to be destroyed to prevent ISIS from using it. The same is true for ISIS’s base in Syria. Working effectively against this kind of enemy will be almost impossible without some forces on the ground, for tactical intelligence, interrogation, target coordination, etc.
This is the highly unstable security situation in which the U.S. embassy in Baghdad has been partially evacuated, with much of its personnel contingent merely redistributed to our consulates in Iraq: Irbil in the north and Basrah in the south. The entire country is a battleground for ISIS – even if the U.S. media can’t see that yet – but we are actually moving Americans out of the relatively protected Green Zone in Baghdad, and into less-fortified facilities in the hinterland. The 100 U.S. Marines being sent to Baghdad for extra embassy security are not a force suited to the nature of the security problem. They can’t stop terrorist bombs and RPGs.
Nor can they help the American civilians still struggling to get out of Iraq, over whom a blanket of silence has effectively dropped. Little has been heard since the middle of last week about the Americans and other foreign workers who had to flee Mosul (and other parts of northern Iraq) when the Iraqi army fled, and who are trying to get from Kurdish-held territory to safety elsewhere via a collapsed air transit system. There is no further information about the 100-200 American contractors who were left at the Balad Air Base (near Samarra and Tikrit) on Friday after the Iraqis evacuated some of them.
The 550 Marines coming into the Persian Gulf on USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19), along with a detachment of five MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, represent an increase in Marine Corps capability. But 550 Marines are also insufficient for the potential tasks in Iraq – unless we plan to do nothing beyond evacuating our embassy personnel in relatively convenient and low-threat conditions (and that means evacuating just our embassy personnel. Evacuating other Americans from Iraq, and even evacuating our consulates, if they come under threat, would require a larger force).
As mentioned in earlier posts, we already have 15,000 U.S. Army troops in Kuwait, including a combat aviation brigade. This force was stationed in Kuwait specifically to be a response force after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in December 2011. It’s still there.
(Interestingly, in April, the Army forces in Kuwait hosted an AH-64D Apache battalion deployed from U.S. forces in Germany, which conducted interoperability training in the Persian Gulf with USS Mesa Verde.)
Mesa Verde left the Gulf in May for a date with the multinational antipiracy force off Somalia, where she conducted a passing exercise on 10 June with the Turkish navy ships TCG Gediz and TCG Orucreis (which are conducting Turkey’s Barbaros deployment: a circumnavigation of Africa).
The other ships in the USS Bataan (LHD-5) amphibious ready group (ARG) have been split between theaters, with Bataan in the Mediterranean, and USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44) in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea through late May. This has become common in recent years, but it does mean the ARG and its embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), 22 MEU in this case, are not formed up to provide all the combat force they are capable of.