A major Iraqi fightback against the jihadists of ISIS will not start until next spring, according to leaks of Washington’s strategy for the war.
Iraqi ground troops will lead a counter-offensive in the west and north of the country, aiming to cut Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIS) supply lines to Syria, force them back on Iraq’s second biggest city Mosul, and retake it by the end of 2015.
They will be supported by 1,600 American troops currently advising and training the Iraqi army, and possibly more to be sent, but not taking part in operations. The United States will provide air power, as it is doing at present.
The leak, published in the New York Times, gives one answer to a key issue for America’s plans identified by analysts: the problem of training Iraqi troops even as they are trying to hold ISIS at bay.
It says in the first instance only nine brigades of Iraqi troops, and three more Kurdish ones, will be trained, perhaps 24,000 men in total.
The report assumes that the Iraqi and Kurdish troops and Shia militias currently fighting will be able to hold out until the spring. It also demands that a new Iraqi national guard will find recruits from among the Sunni population of ISIS-held areas to hold recaptured territory without alienating the local population.
However, an ISIS offensive near Baghdad last week captured an area controlled by the Albu Nimr tribe, which had allied itself to the government. Around 200 captives, including women and children, have since been shot dead by ISIS, as a warning to other Sunni groups tempted to follow suit.