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  October 18, 2016

After Mosul, Whither ISIS?

ISIS is on the run and might head towards Egypt or Israel after getting kicked out of Iraq and Syria, says Col. Lawrence Wilkerson
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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.


SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Early Monday morning, the Iraqi military with the support of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, supported by US air power and special forces, began major offences to retake Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, from the Islamic States. Mosul has been under ISIS control since June of 2014, and is a place from which ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi first declared the caliphate of the Islamic State. While reports indicate that US special forces are taking part in the offensive, Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of the combined joint task forces in Iraq said, “Only Iraqi troops would be involved in the liberation of Mosul.” Let’s have a look.


ARMY LT. GEN. STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Earlier today, Iraqi security forces launched a counterattack to liberate Mosul from ISIL, also known as Daesh. This operation to regain control of Iraq’s second largest city will likely continue for weeks. Possibly longer. Iraq is supported by a wide range of coalition capabilities including air support, artillery, intelligence, advisors, and air controllers. But to be clear, the thousands of combat forces who will liberate Mosul are all Iraqis.


PERIES: Joining us now to analyze the latest development is Larry Wilkerson, Larry is a retired United States army soldier and former Chief of Staff to the United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s also an adjunct professor at the College of William and Mary where he teaches a course on US National security. Larry thank you so much for joining us today.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

PERIES: So, Larry, the war in Iraq was declared over several times now. First, when President Bush infamously declared the mission to be accomplished. Just a few months after that, in 2003 invasion, he did it again. Then again, when President Obama said, all US troops are being withdrawn in 2011. Now, after 13 years, the war in Iraq still seems to be going on with 5,000 some troops there involved in the offensive against ISIS. What do these developments tell us about the US presence in Iraq?

WILKERSON: First, thing they tell us, Sharmini, is that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I think the invasion in 2003 was a strategic disaster on par with Vietnam. That said, this battle that is looming from Mosul to eliminate ISIS from Nineveh Province and Mosul City itself, is a serious complication, if you will, or a serious movement. First in the effort to kick ISIS out of Iraq and second in the effort to resume some modicum of stability in that country. I think as General Petraeus pointed out in the Washington Post, not too long ago, the aftermath is gonna be far more difficult than the battle. Though the battle is probably gonna be tough. Getting things stable and politically able to do anything in the aftermath of all the different groups there is gonna be a real challenge. Such that Iraq has been all along.

PERIES: Now, just how deeply is the US involved in the current operations as you saw in that comment, the Lieutenant General was telling us the Iraqi ground troops will be on the front line of all of this?

WILKERSON: I think we’re looking at the entire coalition, if you will, there. We’re looking at Peshmerga from the Kurds, we’re looking at Shia militias advised, probably, by Iranian counterparts, we’re looking at Sunnis, we’re looking at the more-or-less polyglot forces that have composed those that are fighting in Iraq. I guess to ISIS, that’s one of the problems. Once the victory occurs, we’re looking at Sunni, Shia, Christian Chaka, in terms of religions. And we’re looking at ethnic groups, Arabs, Kurds, Yazidis and Turkmen, among the most prominent. They’re each gonna want their share of what is left after Mosul is returned to Iraq. This is the same problem, intensified if you will, in Nineveh Province and then Mosul, Nineveh being the surrounding province. We have in Iraq at large, though. That we got this inability to establish a political equilibrium with so many groups, antagonistic towards one another from the very start, because of ethnic or religious differences.

Looking not to share power but to have the lion’s share of that power, particularly the Arabs and the Sunni’s within that group, because they dominate population lines, so this is gonna be an enormous challenge. Not unlike that writ large, as I’ve said, across the entire country of Iraq. Having political leadership. Having a single leader or a council, or whatever they decide on as a governance process or a governance entity, is gonna be difficult. Because its gonna have to balance the interest of all these different groups and balance the fact that some of them have really, I wouldn’t say formidable but better armed forces than other groups do. And they’re gonna have to get foreign influences as much as possible out of there, particularly those that are advising or are actually composing some of the military components. So, I wouldn’t wanna be the person trying to put this political structure together that’s gonna try to bring harmony amongst all these various groups.

PERIES: And of course one cannot ignore the impact this has on the civilian population that’s kind of warfare in Mosul. What kind of tragedy do we expect in terms of human suffering here?

WILKERSON: I don’t want to minimize it Sharmini, but I don’t think its gonna be as formidable as some have painted it. I think ISIS is gonna make a show and then they’re gonna leave. I could be wrong but I think ISIS is on the run everywhere. I think their strategy is swiftly changing from one of holding territory and building caliphate to “let’s get outta here and let’s do what we can to disrupt our enemies through terrorist attacks and improvised explosive devices that we saw [inaud.] in the past.” I don’t think they’re gonna want to hold much territory anymore because frankly they’ve been roundly defeated on much of that territory and this will just be another place, one of the most important, where they’ll be defeated. But any kind of fighting with this kind of coalition even with the tactical air controllers on the ground directing US and French and British airstrikes precisely, and I do mean precisely. Individual targets, machine gun nests, anything that they can identify and illuminate, these bombs will come in with about a 99% first round hit possibility. So, I don’t think they’re gonna hold on but this kind of fighting in built up areas like this is the toughest kind of fighting in the world. And it is usually a heavy producer of casualties. Particularly on the assaulting forces. So if ISIS wants to stick around for a little bit and inflict some casualties they certainly can.

PERIES: During the last presidential debate, Donald Trump made a major point out of the fact that this offensive has been announced well in advance and said that making an announcement like this is really incompetent, he said. He was alleging, I think in order to counter Clinton, saying that she would go after Baghdadi and so forth. What do you make of the pre-announcement of this?

WILKERSON: Oh that’s pure nonsense. Militarily or politically, for that matter, its pure nonsense. You wanna announce in this case, because you want as many innocent civilians as possible that might have an avenue of escape or might have a way to protect themselves to do so. There’s no intelligence needed on anyone’s part in the area to know that the Iraqi forces are gonna mount a major offensive. Indeed, they are at this very moment, I suspect, on Mosul. So that’s a preposterous comment. And I say its preposterous politically too. Because Mr. Trump ought to know, that it’s a preposterous comment so its not gonna help his political possibilities at all and it may hurt them.

PERIES: So then Larry, what’s next? What should we be looking out for as journalists covering this?

WILKERSON: I’d be looking at one, what ISIS does to continue more-or-less on an Al Qaeda-like tract and where is it? Is it in Libya? Probably, its already there. Is it in Syria? Yes, its already there. Is it in Iraq? [inaud.] Yes, its already there. Where else might they go? Might they go to Algeria? Might they go to Morocco or Tunisia or even Egypt? Egypt is looking very fragile right now. Or might it even go into Israel? That’s [inaud.] security, and inability to carry out a terrorist attack might suddenly look as fragile as swiss cheese. It can go wherever it wants to go now and take up a routine and a strategy and tactic operations that are more like Al Qaeda than territory holding ISIS and continue on its internet and media campaign to recruit and incite people all over Europe, United States, or wherever, to carry out more-or-less domestic actions in its name. So in many respects, I’d rather see them form battalions and beaten badly in the battlefield than scattering and going out to do their heinous activities of peace meal, in countries all across the globe. That’s not a positive development except for the fact that we’re kicking them out of Iraq and we’ll eventually kick them out of Syria in terms of their organized formations on the battlefield.

PERIES: Larry, I thank you so much for joining us today and we’ll have you back next week. Hopefully, there is something more peaceful to report with you then.

WILKERSON: Thanks Sharmini and let’s hope that the battle is over by that time and ISIS is on the run.

PERIES: Thank you so much for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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