Former Afghan War commander and President Obama’s point-man on the new ISIS War, retired General John Allen continued to offer assessments on the ongoing conflict, insisting today that it was too soon to say whether or not the US is winning the war.
Most of ISIS territorial gains in Iraq in recent days have centered around the Anbar Province, where they are quickly mopping up the last of the Iraqi government’s territory and moving on the second largest airbase in the country. The push to Anbar’s edge leaves them only a stone’s throw from Baghdad itself.
Allen went on to address the US airstrikes around Kobani, saying they were done for “humanitarian purposes” and that the US continues to maintain that the town itself has no strategic value for the US.
The losses in Iraq are clearly mounting, and at best Kobani itself is a stalemate, with ISIS not taking the town as quickly as predicted, but far from defeated in its latest push toward the border town.
The Iraqi capital of Baghdad is not under imminent threat of falling to ISIS, according to US officials familiar with the defensive situation, but it’s far from business as usual with the Islamists fast approaching from the west.
Mortar strikes are an inaccurate game, but they keep the population on edge about an outright invasion, and if they can hit northern Baghdad, they presumably can also hit the airport, in the city’s far west.
That could be a game-changer for the US, which has positioned large numbers of troops at the embassy and the airport, and escalated the war to include Apache helicopters primarily to keep the airport from coming under direct threat. If ISIS can start hitting the runways, and it seems likely they can, the US loses its escape plan for Baghdad.
Iraqi Prime Minister Hayder Abadi tried to offer consensus choices for Defense and Interior Ministers last month, and was quickly shot down by the Badr Brigade, a powerful Shi’ite militia that claims it deserves both offices.
Reports tonight are that the Badr Brigade’s current leader, Transportation Minister Hadi Amiri, is going to be given the Interior Ministry spot, and that Abadi will try to re-nominate Sunni Jaber Jaberi as Defense Minister.
Jaberi has already been shot down by the Shi’ites, who are uncomfortable seeing a Sunni in such a powerful position. That the Badr Brigade got the Interior Ministry through kicking and screaming is likely to lead other major Shi’ite factions to hold out for a concession of their won, and the Badrs themselves are sure to lead the way in pushing for that portfolio as well.
Commanders of the Kurdish force say that they’ve driven ISIS out of parts of the town, and that they believe they can take back the “pockets of resistance” of the ISIS fighters elsewhere.
Exactly what’s going on the ground remains unclear, as Kurdish factions are keen to manage the narrative. People across the border in Turkey, however, reported considerable fighting is still visibly ongoing in the city.
Though when the battle for Kobani was going poorly the US insisted it was not a “priority,” the Obama Administration has launched scores of airstrikes in and around Kobani, and if the Kurds manage to expel ISIS, even temporarily, expect US officials to change their tune and tout this as a vindication of their war strategy.
ISIS has tried to take Kobani several times, unsuccessfully, and has significant reinforcements incoming. Needless to say, the battle for the town remains far from resolved.