The fall of Mosul will set in motion yet another training cycle for the Iraqi Security Forces and a return to the counter-insurgency strategy that will keep U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely, according to U.S. military officials.
The battle for Mosul "will not be the last stand" in Iraq for Daesh, an Arabic acronym for the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria, a U.S. military official who spoke on grounds of anonymity said last Friday. "Clearing Mosul of Daesh will not be the end of Daesh and will not mark their military defeat," the official said.
The U.S. defense establishment from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on down has predicted with near total confidence that the fall of Mosul was inevitable, although tough fighting was expected once the ISF enters the city itself.
Following its defeat in the northwestern city, "Daesh will transform into a traditional insurgent or terrorist-like organization," the official said.
A similar view was expressed earlier last week by Army Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Operation Inherent Resolve and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
In a video briefing to the Pentagon, Volesky said the ISF was a different military force from the one that broke and ran, discarding their equipment, when ISIS invaded from Syria in June of 2014.
"The Iraqi army isn't the same Iraqi army of 2014," Volesky said. The U.S. to that point had trained the Iraqis in counter-insurgency and they were not prepared for the force-on-force conventional fight of the ISIS invasion or for the skills they would need to take back cities such as Ramadi and Fallujah. "We didn't teach them on the big fight," he said.
The U.S. and its coalition allies were gearing up for another training cycle on the counter-insurgency, or COIN, strategy at various sites around Baghdad, Volesky said.
At Taji, the U.S. has set up the Infantry Center of Excellence run by Australian and New Zealand troops and "that's really where we talk about the infantry tactics," Volesky said. At Besmayah, Spanish troops were training Iraqis at the Armor Center of Excellence.
At Al-Asad, Belgian troops were in charge of training Iraqi border and federal police and in northern Irbil, capital of the Kurdish Regional Government, Italian troops were training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Volesky said.
"You've got multiple locations and organizations to train," he said. "We've had to modify our program of instruction based on what the enemy is doing" to adjust "for this insurgency that we expect them to go to," Volesky said.
He declined to speculate on how much longer a U.S. military presence would be required to train for the COIN mission in a nation still riven by sectarian and political factions. "Again, the decision of how long the U.S. stays is clearly made well above my pay grade, and that'll be done between the U.S. and the government of Iraq," Volesky said.
On the PBS "Newshour" program last week, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus said the ISF will face a "tough, tough fight" for Mosul but the ISIS defenders by now "realize they are dead men walking. It's just a question of how long" it takes to clear the city.
"The bigger question is the battle after this," said Petraeus, who led the 101st Airborne Division in occupying Mosul in 2003. He called Mosul "the most complex human terrain" in Iraq, with a mixture of Sunnis, Shia, Turkmen, Christians, Kurds and Yazidis in the city. "All will want to play a part in governance, all will want to be represented. This is going to be very difficult," he said.
"It is essential that the U.S. has a role" in working out the difficult compromises that will be necessary to maintain the peace after ISIS is driven out, Petraeus said, but how much influence the U.S. will have was open to question.
Petraeus noted that he had 23,000 U.S. troops in his command for Mosul alone in 2003, while the U.S. currently has about 5,200 trainers and advisers for all of Iraq.
"The coalition and the ISF want to get it right this time" in Mosul, said Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, but "the crux of the matter is that the ISF is likely to be viewed somewhat by the local population as an occupying army."
"The U.S. role is to be the great coordinator. There is the risk that the U.S. becomes the de facto referee among the various factions," Heras said.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.