An anonymous officer working at US Central Command headquarters briefed several reporters on an upcoming military operation to retake the Islamic State-held city of Mosul on Thursday and several Senators want to know who the briefer was and whether he was acting under orders from the Obama administration.
Since no one can figure out a military motive for the leak, there is a concern that the Obama administration is playing politics by hinting that more decisive action in the war against ISIS is coming.
Such a detailed briefing on the numbers of soldiers who will take part in the offensive, as well as their makeup, has raised eyebrows not only on Capitol Hill, but also among active and retired military.
Top Republican senators Friday demanded answers after a military official revealed “detailed operational information” about a looming Iraqi mission to retake Mosul from the Islamic State, saying the disclosure has put the mission at risk.
“Never in our memory can we recall an instance in which our military has knowingly briefed our own war plans to our enemies,” Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a letter to President Obama.
“These disclosures not only risk the success of our mission, but could also cost the lives of U.S., Iraqi, and coalition forces.”
The senators asked who was responsible for the briefing, conducted Thursday by a military official, and whether they had White House approval. “Those responsible have jeopardized our national security interests and must be held accountable,” they wrote.
The letter follows criticism in other corners that the military may have revealed too much detail in previewing the operation.
On Thursday, the U.S. military official outlined plans to retake Mosul and said the “shaping” for the battle is currently underway. He said the Iraqi military hopes to begin operations in the “April, May timeframe” with the goal of retaking Mosul before Ramadan begins on June 17.
The official then went a step further and leaked that five Iraqi Army brigades will be used in the fight, as well as several smaller brigades, composing a total force of up to 25,000 Iraqi troops. Three brigades of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters will participate as well.
But the details, disclosed at the close of a White House summit on combating violent extremism, raised some concerns.
“That is pretty amazing that that information’s out there,” retired Gen. Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff and a Fox News military analyst, said Friday.
A current and former military intelligence officer also told Fox News that the decision to publicly announce the plan was counterintuitive because it “telegraphs” the timing and number of units involved. The officers said it would allow Islamic State, also known as ISIS, or ISIL, to prepare for the battle by laying improvised explosive devices.
Both officers questioned whether political considerations on the part of the Obama administration factored into the decision to announce the offensive.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi government and military doubts its soldiers will be ready for such a complex operation by the Spring:
Questions persist about whether the struggling Iraqi military will be ready for the operation to retake the country’s second largest city from ISIS militants in just a few months.
Iraqi officials continue to insist they haven’t gotten the advanced weapons they need for the operation in the northern city of Mosul, and some question whether they will be ready for a spring offensive. But the Pentagon insists the U.S. has sent tens of thousands of weapons and ammunition and more is in the pipeline.
Hakim al-Zamili, the head of the security and defense committee in the Iraqi parliament, told The Associated Press Friday that “any operation would be fruitless” unless the brigades are properly prepared and have the weapons they need.
“I think if these weapons are not made available soon, the military assault might wait beyond spring,” he said. “The Americans might have their own calculations and estimations, but we as Iraqis have our own opinion. We are fighting and moving on the ground, so we have better vision and April might be too soon.”
Senior officers at the Pentagon were caught off guard by the leak, and say the plan is unworkable anyway:
Less than 24 hours after U.S. military officials publicly detailed their plans for a spring offensive on ISIS-held Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, many within the Pentagon privately questioned whether that timetable was plausible. They said that they were dubious that their partners in the Iraqi military—the troops supposed to lead the offensive—would be capable of conducting such a campaign by then.
“I really doubt it is going to happen that soon,” said one military officer who, like several others, served in Iraq between 2003-2011 and spoke on condition of anonymity. “And if it does, it will take months.”
The largely Shiite troops of the Iraqi army are unlikely to risk their lives to win back a Sunni dominated city, several U.S. military officers told The Daily Beast Friday. Indeed, when ISIS stormed the city last June, Iraqi forces walked away, leading the U.S. and 60 other nations to form a coalition against the terror group.
Even if the Iraqi troops do stand up and fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State, having a Shiite force move in and potentially ravage a major Sunni city in a bid to save it could have adverse affects on the Sunnis in Iraq and broader Sunni Arab world. Sectarian tensions, particularly in Iraq, run that deep.
“I cannot believe that Shiites would fight for Mosul,” one officer who served in the restive Sunni province of Anbar during the Iraq War told The Daily Beast.
It looks more and more like this leak was an attempt at disinformation — perhaps to pull ISIS forces from elsewhere into Mosul to resist any attempt to retake it. You have to believe it’s something like that because otherwise, it’s a monumental blunder. I can’t believe that officers at CENTCOM revealed this information on their own, which makes it likely that either the White House is behind the leak or top command at CENTCOM. If it was the White House, the incompetents should be fired. If it was CENTCOM top command, there is obviously some kind of psychological advantage they believe they’re getting.
Either way, the Iraqis aren’t ready and won’t be anytime soon.