Attrition: The Cost Of Victory


March 16, 2016: At the end of 2015 Iraq declared Ramadi, the largest city in of Anbar province (which is most of western Iraq) back under government control. While the human cost from all the fighting with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) was not that great property damage from the six month air and ground campaign left 5,700 buildings damaged and about a third of those were completely destroyed. Worse 64 bridges were destroyed. This is particularly troublesome because the city is built along the Euphrates River. Most of the electrical distribution system was destroyed along with many major government buildings and the main railroad station.

Ramadi is the capital of Anbar Province and normally has a population of 500,000. Most of the population fled between the time ISIL took the city in April 2015 (when a now dismissed general ordered his forces out as a much smaller ISIL force approached) and the final battle in December 2015. Much of the damage was done by the thousands of bombs planted by ISIL both to simply destroy stuff and to cause losses to the attackers. Iraqi, American and other allied aircraft caused a lot of damage, especially in areas where ISIL took a stand and the advancing troops called in air strikes.

Despite that victory declaration Iraqi troops are still slowly moving through some areas of the city where ISIL planted lots of booby-traps and landmines. These explosive devices were meant to “punish” the disloyal (to ISIL) population of the city and cause maximum losses to advancing troops and Shia militia. The militias are letting the soldiers use their training and special equipment to find and clear the explosives. Meanwhile Iraqi troops have moved past Ramadi and are advancing deeper into territory controlled by ISIL for a year or more. So far ISIL counterattacks have slowed but not stopped this advance. It is estimated that it will take several billion dollars to repair the damage in Ramadi.

The continued operations in Ramadi have not delayed the efforts to drive ISIL out of Mosul even though it appears there will be even greater economic losses involved. ISIL has controlled Mosul since June 2014 and most (all but about 800,000) of the original three million inhabitants have fled. Nearly all those still in Mosul are openly hostile to ISIL, which is suffering from increasingly frequent and accurate air attacks. This is apparently the result of a more effective informant network in the city. Government forces south of the city and Kurdish troops (and non-Moslem militias) north of the city are preparing for the final attack, which is now supposed to take place in mid-2016. ISIL is most concerned with the Kurdish advance from the north because the Kurds have long had American air support. As more U.S. aircraft have arrived in the region, along with more American Special Forces to work with the Kurds, the Kurdish forces have become ever more deadly. In February 2016 ISIL made an attempt to slow the Kurdish advance and failed, suffering nearly a thousand casualties (most of them dead) in the process. The Kurds are more vulnerable when they advance but because so many of the Kurds have years of combat experience and lots of U.S. training it is difficult to kill or wound enough Kurds to stop these movements. The Kurds are concerned about keeping their casualties low and are less concerned about the physical damage to Mosul. This is good for morale, preserves the experienced fighters and recognizes the fact the Kurds have limited (compared to the Iraqi Army and Shia militias) manpower and want to conserve it. But the Iraqi Arabs, who control the government, see catastrophic physical and fiscal losses while liberating Mosul.


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