Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Military Intelligence: Identifying Strategic Threats and Enigmas

One of the fundamental purposes of providing strategic threat assessments at the national and international level is to stimulate contingency planning in the diplomatic, economic and military fields to prepare for all eventualities that may pose a serious threat to a country’s national interests. These timely recitals from the nation’s intelligence apparatus are the single most important considerations that the executive branch of government must utilize to formulate coherent and effective policy on the global stage; where the vast stew of foreign interests are allowed to comingle and often compete with one another. The value of the strategic threat assessment cannot be diminished as a tool of sound operational policy and although their significance is often opened to wider interpretations and perceptions by each successive head of state, its relevance as a guide to unify inter-governmental coordination and response make it an essential instrument to the continuity of government during times of national emergency. 

Anticipation and preparation are the cornerstones of a nation’s national defense capabilities because it is not so much the suddenness of a cataclysmic event that can evoke panic, chaos and disorder but more the government’s response time to garner the resources needed to mitigate the disaster that most determines the level of suffering experienced by the victims. America saw the failure of government to exhibit a sound national civil-defense policy firsthand in 2004 through its failure to coordinate a rapid response to the tragedy that befell the citizens of New Orleans, following the catastrophic flooding brought about by Hurricane Katrina. This was a prime example of the failure of the executive branch to activate defensive contingency plans even though the threat assessment had already been widely illustrated and conveyed to the offices of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. What made the government’s response to this particular disaster event more shocking was the fact that it came so closely on the heels of the tragic 9-11 terrorist bombings, revealing a potentially fatal flaw in the government’s contingency planning for domestic disaster events of a non-manmade nature.

But it is one thing to make a strategic threat assessment in anticipation of a naturally occurring disaster such as a hurricane, flood or earthquake because these events can never be adequately defended. Their threat assessment merely requires a sustained level of civil defense coordination and contingency planning to utilize transportation and communications networks to channel disaster-relief resources to the affected areas. It is only through a timely and well-sustained response after the event has happened which will best mitigate the extent of the overall suffering of the victims. But man-made threats require a far more vigilant introspection and a closer level of inter-governmental coordination to parley investigative resources. Deterrence is the crucial denominator that accentuates the importance of the strategic threat assessment in analyzing the potential of economic and military dangers. It is also the main reason why strategic threat assessments on economic or military foes must be made far in advance as possible of the presumed threat in order to formulate an effective deterrent strategy. 

During the Cold War America’s vast intelligence apparatus was primarily committed to countering the Soviet Union by fomenting political and military opposition against communist-run countries in the Third World and keeping democratically-run governments militarily capable of quashing communist agitation from within. In those days the ideological divide between east and west was much more pronounced and this black and white chasm made it much easier to differentiate friend from foe. Even in the highly contentious, sectarian strife of the Arab Mideast, the political divide between Washington and Moscow took center stage and served to stifle the region’s acute religious animosities by the fa├žade of political Pan-Arabism. All this made it much simpler for the two side’s intelligence agencies to formulate long-range strategic planning since the international chessboard ran distinctly parallel to the game of dominoes Moscow and Washington had arrayed against each other. The common denominator that defined each other’s grand strategy and prevented them both from overlapping too far into the other’s domain was the persuasiveness of nuclear deterrence. 

It now seems rather ironic that the world in which we live in today is seemingly far more dangerous than the world that for nearly fifty years threatened us all with nuclear annihilation at the whim of a lone air force pilot. What is perhaps more telling is the fact that with every noticeable stride that modern technology makes to enrich and simplify our lives, the danger increases that someone or something might utilize that same technology to bring harm and misfortune in a catastrophic way to those least likely to benefit from these advances. In coping with the advancement of modern communications networks, social media and the harvesting of information technology, today’s intelligence community is now imminently threatened by the same scientific forces that it helped create and monopolize for decades. One of the greatest examples of this phenomenon is the copious amounts of disinformation that is regularly disseminated in the modern media and is now frequently used to incite political and sectarian rivalries at home and abroad. As the availability and usefulness of information proliferated throughout the masses, it perhaps became inevitable that that same data could be used quite maliciously by more nefarious characters with ulterior and not-always-innocent motives.

Today’s intelligence and counter-intelligence technicians are constantly adapting, refining and contriving new methods and countermeasures to thwart the enemy’s ability to communicate with each other over a wide spectrum of avenues and frequencies and to preempt their operational tendencies. It is a never-ending battle of detection, evasion and improvisation. Conversely, the enemy comes replete with their own set of invasive, high-tech tricks and gadgets to infiltrate the most modern and secure computer networks; giving today’s intelligence technician a dizzying array of threats and dangers they must continuously defend against. And these threats are no longer emanating solely from today’s high-tech inventories of the more organized and bellicose, state intelligence services such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran; more and more of today’s electronic threats stem from novice, computer-hackers under the employ of radical Islamic terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. These groups are now constantly interfering with critical electronic transmissions in the commerce and financial industries, as well as their infiltration of vital civil infrastructure such as electrical grids, air-traffic and control and public transportation traffic.

The evolution of communications technology in just the Twenty-first Century alone continues to expand at a mind-boggling and often alarming rate. If you can imagine that your state-of-the-art, high-tech cell-phone that you bought in January of 2014 is now impractically obsolete, than you’d be hard-pressed to realize just how far other, more sophisticated computing devices and their accompanying security systems have already fallen by the wayside. These developments compel today’s intelligence community to work infinitely harder to detect and track the most viable electronic threats in an ever-shrinking timeframe, lest their most applicable technological breakthroughs be discovered and exploited before the source of the threat is identified. This also makes it extremely difficult to furnish a timeframe estimate of the strategic threat assessment; with the unintended consequence that the threat might be ignored or mitigated through political negligence or bureaucratic inertia. These are very real possibilities, especially in an age where governments focus disproportionately on the “here and now” rather than further on down the road. 

These are just a snapshot of the harrowing challenges that the intelligence community is continuously subject to in devising a coherent strategic threat assessment and equating that threat to its proper level of risk appraisal. Today’s color-coded, risk assessment index to correlate terrorist threats is a handy tool to use in boosting the level of vigilance for the nation’s emergency first-responders but it has no relevance to the formulation of sound national policy or political grand strategy in setting that policy to achieve long-term goals. Thus the terrorist threat index is not to be confused with a strategic threat assessment; the latter deals exclusively with future risks as they correlate to national grand strategy while the former is a rather abstract, early-warning system to stimulate national vigilance at the local level. The one common denominator in both intelligence agendas is the overarching reach of international terrorism and asymmetric warfare on the part of non-state entities. As they both stand today, these are the most cogent, long-term threats to the democratic free world and the most viable threats which will inevitably require a sustained military effort somewhere down the line. For example, the strategic threat assessment against ISIS clearly portends a progressively worsening threat to the west the longer the group remains in conventional existence.
ISIS on the march

However, this doesn’t negate the threat the radical Islamic jihadist group will most assuredly become if it reverts back to its former incarnation as a small-band group of militant suicide-bombers, should its expanding base be decisively beaten on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. But it clearly is a more persuasive and regional threat to the whole Mideast the longer its conventional elements remain dug in around Eastern Syria and Anbar Province. Its entrenched presence in Iraq and Syria is clearly more than just a military threat, giving that its toehold on some of the richest oil deposits in the Persian Gulf is bound to have a serious, destabilizing effect on the global economy. Clearly this makes ISIS more than just a threat to its Arab neighbors yet its menacing presence doesn’t seem to have registered more than a distant blip on the radar screens of most other nations of the western world, especially those in Europe. This is not because these nations don’t run their own strategic threat assessments from time to time rather it seems to have a lot to do with these nation’s reluctance to venture militarily outside of their own continent. Europe’s intransigence to military adventurism seems to be an acute byproduct of its decades-long, Cold War posture as a defensive bulwark against conventional Soviet ground attack.

But deterrence need not always assume a defensive posture and because outside threats are not always plainly discernible it is oftentimes wise to expand the nation-state’s security perimeter to encompass forward asymmetric outposts far from the nation’s borders where proactive, unconventional forces can be tactically positioned to preempt the threatening source through intervention or interference. This holds especially true when the threatening source has taken the form of the non-state entity, whether it be an individual terrorist cell, a regional guerrilla army such as ISIS or the command and control center of a major terrorist organization. Every nation’s military high command has their own innate, strategic master plan for dealing with outside threats that could endanger the welfare of their citizens or the country’s sovereignty, yet for the most part, only the USA, Russia and Israel enforce a defensive perimeter that extends far beyond their sovereign frontiers. It is no coincidence that these three nation’s biggest external threats hail from non-state entities without natural borders. Thus they must travel far and wide to elicit a sound judgment as to what kind of threat presents a more imminent danger.

The Arab and Islamic worlds have still not grasped this strategic concept, especially its more hallowed religious institutions and spiritual leadership. The more radical imams might be spiritedly inclined to send forth an army of youthful jihadists to rid their sacred lands of infidels and other malicious interlopers yet they don’t seem to fully comprehend that it is exactly this kind of hostile response that is working counter to their overall objective. It is precisely the radicalism and violence of their message that sustains America’s paramilitary presence in their homelands because this is the clearest option the USA has in preventing another 9-11 terrorist attack from ever coming to fruition again. Soon Europe will also awaken to the threat of radical Islam and they too will move to fashion a buffer between themselves and the imminent threat from violent jihad. And as the jihadists become more brazen and violent, so too will America and the west be forced to elevate their presence in the Islamic holy land until the threat of its unwelcome export abroad dissipates. But it’s hard to foresee any radical change of posture from the jihadists since they’re currently riding the bubble of ISIS’s recent military victories and for all intents and purposes, will have to be forcefully dragged from their current positions in Syria and Iraq. 

Which brings us back to those hard-pressed intelligence techs in the gloomy catacombs underneath CIA Headquarters in Langley. Once the wonder-wizards of the intelligence community, these covert technocrats now find themselves on the frontline of America’s War on Terrorism because terrorists have gradually come to the conclusion that the key to the whole Western World’s hold on political power lies increasingly on its technological prowess. That technology is at the heart of America and Europe’s ability to detect threats and protect its people from them. Governments and civil defense infrastructure increasingly rely on high technology to safeguard the well-being of their societies. Hence it makes sense that the group with the most unbounded hatred for America and the west will attempt to strike out at it vast domestic infrastructure from the one area its internal defenses are most vulnerable; its electronic communications. And as ISIS acquires more and more oil wealth from their occupied territories and begins to accumulate their own high-tech gadgets and ultra-modern tools of war, they will no doubt, be lured to attempt to infiltrate America’s electronic firewalls from the safety of their own desktop terror centers in the Islamic heartland. 
European leaders at EC conference in Brussells

This potentially ominous development brings a heap of credibility to the assertion that America and Europe harbor the same mutual enemies. Consequently, they must be guided by the same strategic threat assessments wherein cooperation and mutual trust are essential to combat these threats wherever and whenever they emerge. Only when the west consents to combining their resources for the sake of strategic necessity can they begin to wholeheartedly confront their most menacing nemeses from a position of sound and unadulterated strength. Both America and Europe must resolve to attain an awareness that they share a common bond that transcends all foreign obstacles that would attempt to divide them and permeate their shared strategic goals. However, Europe’s relationship with their American allies has been palpably strained since the fall of the Iron Curtain and not all of Europe’s leaders are comfortable with ceding the political lead to a government that has increasingly focused its attention on Asia as its new strategic center of gravity. 

Obviously there are sizeable differences in the way America and her European allies interpret their strategic threat assessments. Currently Europe, for good cause, seems fixated on Russia’s newly invigorated, aggressive tendencies thus they can’t help but look beyond the imminent threat of ISIS materializing in the Levant. As a result, America’s strategic threat assessment of ISIS can only be viewed as exaggerated by European standards. But just because Europe and the current administration in the White House are not overly alarmed by the distinct warning signs’ being signaled from Langley and the Joint Chiefs of Staff doesn’t mean they’re not there. Sooner or later both Europe and Washington will be forced to come to the conclusion that airpower alone cannot rid the Levant of this violent scourge and just as things were during the Cold War, they will be compelled to pool their resources behind one collective military doctrine and resolve to destroy ISIS on the field of battle, once and for all. This is the one strategic threat assessment with overarching repercussions for both the USA and Europe. It must be attended to before the threat becomes a terrible, hard-to-believe tragedy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Operation Terminal Spirit: A Ground Force Plan to Reduce ISIS

Col.Max von Schoppenburg:
Recently the Obama Administration and a host of Arab and independent NATO allies embarked on a military course of action to begin a long-term fight to defeat the Islamic State militia; the world’s most menacing military threat since Hitler’s Nazi Empire. Since most of the coalition’s political masters have seemingly ruled out the feasibility of coordinating a collective ground force response to counter the threat, the military might of this multi-national coalition relies almost exclusively on the effects of airpower alone to stem the group’s rapid advance through Northern Syria and Iraq. However, we believe that this comprehensive military plan to defeat the Islamic State is unequivocally doomed to failure without the immediate intervention of combat ground troops into the region. We stress the immediate intervention of ground forces because this particular threat deserves urgent interdiction now rather than later because the group’s current rate of expansion portends it becoming a much more challenging obstacle in the future than it surely is today. 

A dynamic and effective ground force operation to disrupt the Islamic State doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same strength or scope as the immense and costly undertaking of America’s last two military interventions in Iraq or Afghanistan. It need not entail a massive and lengthy buildup of conventional military assets in neighboring ports and bases or the costly transport of hundreds of combat formations and their overly-abundant logistical baggage trains and support services. But in order for it to take maximum advantage of rapidity and stealth and to extract an operable element of surprise, the bulk of operational units involved should be limited exclusively to the domain of the US Armed Forces. However to minimize America’s exposure to the political ramifications of another prolonged military presence in the Mideast, a multi-national follow-up force should be ready to supplant American forces as soon as combat operations have concluded. The most expedient approach to consummate this directive is to enlist the help of NATO ground forces to hold and maintain the crucial military objectives gained until the Iraqi’s can sustain an impetus in effectively defending their own country.

The following script is the basic outline of a four-part, four-phase, multiple-arms, military operation to severely disrupt, degrade and eventually repulse the advance of the Islamic State militia across Iraq. The plan is not meant to completely destroy the Islamic State rather it seeks to halt and suppress its sizeable military gains in Iraq and to impede its further progression deep enough so that it is no longer a critical threat to the political power in Baghdad. It is predominantly a ground-force operation which will rely on extensive airpower for direct, combat ground support and aerial insertion and resupply. The basic ground-force elements are quite limited in scope, relying significantly on the stealth and precision of Special Forces operatives and small unit commando raids. Although there is a sizeable conventional force element involved, albeit much smaller in scope than the earlier American deployments in Iraq or Afghanistan, the bulk of the ground force contingent will rely on the operational assistance of Kurdish and Iraqi Army forces since ultimately this is still their fight to win or lose.

Operation Terminal Spirit is strictly a military plan of operations and merely a basic outline of the forces involved, operational movement and objectives. Although it cannot foresee the level of resistance the attackers will meet, we have made an extensive intelligence analysis of the current conditions on the ground to accurately predict where the heaviest combat engagements will probably occur. It does not take into account the political agreements that must assuredly be made between Iraq or Syria and any other participant in the operation and follow-up exercises. The tactical plans simply assume a proper level of command cooperation between the unconventional Kurdish Peshmerga and their guerrilla allies in Turkey and Syria, as well as the operational assistance of the Iraqi Army in an overt, best case scenario. 

Plans for the logistical transfer of the conventional assets needed from the United States have also been omitted and it assumes an already formidable level of unit and command cohesion between the Kurdish Peshmerga and their US Army Special Forces advisors. Neither does it take into account the current availability of the US forces to be used in the operation but simply makes the calculated judgment that those forces indeed will be wholly sufficient for the tasks at hand. Because of the ongoing air operations the plan cannot accurately predict the exact location of the frontline in any given sector of the front rather it assumes that the enemy line will be roughly where it was at the beginning of September. Operation Terminal Spirit makes the unqualified assumption that less than 40,000 American soldiers will be needed to effectively fulfill all military objectives during the combat phase of the undertaking and offers the estimate of a four-to-six week time frame to complete all its military objectives. 

The Main Participants:

4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team: Component units consisting of the 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment; 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment; 1st Battalion, 77th Armored Regiment; 2nd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment; 123rd Brigade Support Battalion and a Special Troops Battalion.

173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team: Component units consisting of the 173rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion; 1st Battalion, 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment; 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment; 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment; 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment; 173rd Brigade Support Battalion and the detached 1st Squadron, 63rd Armored Regiment with its formidable supply of 12 MIAI Abrams Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

2nd Marine Expeditionary Force: Component units consisting of the Headquarters Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division; the 2nd, 6th and 8th Marine regiments; the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion; 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion; 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion and the 2nd Aircraft Wing, consisting of 4 Harrier jump-jet squadrons, 4 EA-6B Prowler Squadrons, 5 MV-22B Osprey squadrons, 2 light attack helicopter squadrons and 2 heavy helicopter airlift squadrons. 

24th Marine Expeditionary Unit: A smaller formation of Marines consisting of the reinforced 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines; a combat logistics battalion and the medium tilt-rotor squadron VMM-365, with its powerful array of Hueys, Cobras, Harriers and Chinooks, along with a dozen MV-22B Ospreys. This force is also augmented with the 2nd Tank Battalion.

JSOC and USSOCUM Special Forces Components: The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 75th Ranger Regiment (7 companies); 10th and 5th Special Forces Groups (10 SF Operational Detachments; A & C Squadrons of JSOC’s Delta Force; USAF’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron; US Special Operations Command’s SEAL Teams 3 & 8; US Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group or DEVGRU (SEAL Team-6); B-Squadron of the 22 SAS, the UK’s premier Special Forces commando group.

Offshore Reserve: The USMC’s 8th Marine Regiment, consisting of 3 combat infantry battalions and the accompanying VMM-263, medium tilt-rotor squadron of MV-22B Ospreys and assorted combat attack helicopters.

Post-operation follow-up force; NATO Eurocorps: Component units of a joint, French-German rapid reaction force consisting of: The French 3rd Hussar Regiment and its 110th Infantry Regiment; Germany’s 291st and 292nd Light Infantry Battalions; their 295th Armored Artillery Battalion; the 550th Armored Engineer Company and a logistics and support battalion....British 16th Air Assault Brigade: Component units, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Parachute Regiments; 216th Signal Squadron; 3rd and 4th Regiments of the Army Air Corps; 59th Combat Aviation Brigade; 23rd Engineer Regiment; 13th Air Assault Support Regiment and the 16th Medical Regiment.

The 4 Component Operational Task Forces

Task Force Gold: (Turkish-Syrian Border) Special Forces Operational Detachments OP5111, OP5122, OP5213, OP5221, OP5311 & OP5312 and 3 battalions of Peshmerga and YPG Kurdish guerrilla groups designated Gold 1-3. Gold-4 comprises the covert activities of Delta Force’s Squadrons A & C and units of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron. Gold-5 represents the operations of SEAL Teams 3 & 8 and its supporting STS operatives.

Task Force Silver: (Northern Nineveh Province, Iraq) Silver-1 covers the operations of 2nd Ranger Battalion’s Bravo and Delta companies; Silver-2 denotes the operations of SF detachments OP-10112, OP-10114, OP-10121 & OP-10123 and their accompanying two Peshmerga battalions. Silver-3 entails the covert activities of the SAS B-Squadron.

Task Force Green: (Western Anbar Province, Iraq) TF Green-1 comprises the operations of the 1st Ranger Battalion’s Alpha and Charlie companies; Green-2 conveys the progress of SEAL Team-6; Green-3 covers the landings and subsequent operations of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, while Green-4 denotes the progression of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

Task Force Red: (Iraqi airfields at Irbil and Kirkuk) Red-1 represents the status of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force and Red-2 covers its component formation, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Red-1 will be flown into Kirkuk while Red-2 will fly into Irbil.  
Task Force Gold operations in Northeast Syria

The Plan

D-DAY Nov. 1, 2014

1000hrs: Gold-1: Special Forces Operational Detachments OP5311 & OP5312 lead a reinforced battalion of YPG Kurdish guerrillas in an attack from Ceylanpinar, Turkey across the Syrian border on the ISIS-held villages of Ras al-Ayn and Asadiya. Once across the immediate border defenses, this group will advance to the south along Rt.716 toward Tall Tamir and Tal Erphan, both northern suburbs of Al Hasakah… Gold-2: Special Forces Operational Detachments OP5213 & OP5221 will lead another YPG Guerrilla Kurdish group from Nusaybin, Turkey across the Syrian border and seize the frontier villages of Al Qamishli and Khatanieh, before moving down Rt.7 toward Al Hasakah and investing the scattered villages along the highway.
Task Force Silver operations in Ninevah Province, Northern Iraq

D+1hr, 1100hrs: Gold-3: Special Forces Operational Detachments OP5111 & 5122 lead a reinforced battalion of YPG Kurdish guerrillas and elements of the Free Syrian Army across the Turkish-Syrian border and attack the frontier town of Al Malikiyah, before moving onto the crossroads villages of Al Maabadah, Tahtani and Tepke. These forces will split up and move toward the Khanik and Al Yarubiyeh border crossings with Iraq… Gold-4: Units of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron will airdrop Delta Force Squadron A at the Al Khatuniyah Reservoir and the Squadron C on the Hassakeh South Dam. These forces will ultimately block all ISIS reinforcements in the east from reaching Al Hasakah. The dam’s seizure will also prevent ISIS from destroying them and threatening the Euphrates River valley. Gold-4’s task will require Delta Force to hold the dam and reservoir at Al Khatuniyah for at least 72 hours… Gold-5: Units of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron will insert SEAL Team-3 at the Hassakeh West Dam and SEAL Team-8 at the Hassakeh East Dams, along the Khabur River, just to the north of Al Hasakah.

D+2hrs, 0000hrs, Nov. 2- Silver-1: 2nd Ranger Battalion’s Bravo and Delta Companies are airdropped west of the Mosul Dam Reservoir and begin moving toward the Rabiah Border Crossing after seizing the village of Chilparat. The Rangers will fight their way to the border crossing through Rabiah and linkup with Task Force Gold-3 at Al Yarubiyeh… Silver-2: Special Forces Operational Detachments OP10112 & OP10114 lead a reinforced battalion of Peshmerga militia in an attack across the west side of the Mosul Dam Reservoir toward the towns of Al Huqnah and Tal Hugnah… Silver-3: Special Forces Operational Detachments OP10121 & OP10123 lead two Peshmerga Battalions in an attack from the east of the reservoir onto the series of ISIS-held villages south of the Mosul Dam, ostensibly to block Iraqi Rt.2 from Mosul and to seize the villages of Tall Kayf, Telskuf and Babirah. One unit will force their way across the dam to link up with Silver-4… Silver-4: B Squadron of the 22 SAS will make an underwater commando raid on ISIS forces holding the east side of the Mosul Dam. These forces will linkup with Special Forces and Peshmerga groups and then cut the road between the dam and the crossroads village of Klisik Kupri, at the junction of Rt1 and Rt47, toward Tel Afar… Task Force Green-1: The 1st Ranger Battalion’s Alpha & Charlie Companies are airdropped south of the Al Qaim border crossing and assault the H1 airfield, a deactivated, former Iraqi military base… TF Green-2: SEAL Team-6 launches aerial assault on the Haditha Dam. Extensive close air support to follow both TF Green 1 & 2 for duration of operations.
Task Force Green operations in western Anbar Province

D+6-10hrs 0400-0800 Nov. 2- TF Green-3: Once the H1 airfield is secured by the Rangers the 173rd Airborne Brigade begins landing at the base. The 1st Battalion, 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment immediately begins moving toward the Al Qaim border crossing. 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment begins moving toward Al Qaim after sunrise. The brigade’s support battalion begins immediate work to make the runway operable. The brigade’s special troops battalion begins moving toward Al Qaim.

D+12-18hrs: 1000-1600hrs Nov. 2- TF Green-4: The 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team begins landing at the H1 airfield, along with the detached 1st Squadron, 63rd Armored Regiment. The latter formation will begin moving toward Haditha as will many of the other units of the Stryker brigade… TF Red-1: 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade begins arriving at Kirkuk International Airport after noontime… TF Red-2: 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit begins arriving at Irbil Airfield in the early afternoon… TF Gold-1: SF groups and Peshmerga allies move south along Rt.716 and begin assault on Tall Tamir, with eventual linkup with SEAL Team-3 at Hassakeh West Dam… TF Gold-2: Once border villages are secured the SF groups and Peshmerga will traverse Rt.7 toward Al Hasakah and affect linkup with SEAL Team-8 at the Hassakeh East Dam. Once both linkups with the SEAL teams have been completed, SEAL Team 3 will be absorbed into TF Gold-1 and SEAL Team 8 will revert to TF Gold-2. TF Gold-5 operations are completed… TF Gold-3: OP5111 and the Peshmerga forces will move onto the Khanik border crossing with Iraq and OP5122 and the SFA units will assault the Al Yarubiyeh crossing… TF Silver-1: Ranger companies Bravo and Delta will complete the seizure of the Rabiah border crossing and linkup with TF-Gold-3 at Al Yarubiyeh… TF Silver-2 & 4: OP10112 & OP10114 and the SAS forces will assault Al-Huqnah and continue moving toward Tel Afar… TF Silver-3: Will be joined by more Peshmerga reinforcements to hold the road between Mosul and the Mosul Dam. Close air support will be vital in targeting ISIS reinforcements streaming north from Mosul.

Task Force Red operations from Kirkuk and Irbil

D+2-7 Nov. 3-8: TF Silver-2 & 4: Special Forces, SAS and Peshmerga begin assault on Tel Afar and neighboring air base. Reserve forces from the Marines 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment will reinforce the assault on Tel Afar. Marine air wing from VMM-263 will fly close air support until air base is taken. TF Silver-3 will continue to block Highway 2 from Mosul until Iraqi forces can be airlifted into Tel Afar… TF Gold-1 & 2 will begin urban assault into Al Hasakah. This particular operation will entail political agreements with the Syrian government to allow American close air support and prompt medevac evacuations. Secondary forces will attempt to move around Al Hasakah to linkup with TF Gold-4 at the Hassakeh South Dam. The fight for Al Hasakah will be one of the main battles of Operation Terminal Spirit, but primarily a Kurdish fight… TF Gold-3: Since the Khanik border crossing should be free of extensive ISIS forces, forces from there can be diverted south to the Al Yarubiyeh crossing. Once this crossing is taken, Gold-3 should be able to linkup with Silver-1, wherein these groups will revert to a defensive holding action until Iraqi replacements can be filtered into the battle zone… TF Green-3: Ranger forces and the 1st Battalion, 508th Airborne Infantry, along with the mobile 1st Squadron, 91st Calvalry Regiment begin urban assault on Al Qaim and the neighboring, militarized border crossing… TF Green-4: Units of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team; 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Rgt; 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Rgt; 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Rgt; 2nd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Rgt and the detached 1st Squadron, 63rd Armor Rgt all begin advancing on Haditha and attempt to linkup with SEAL Team-6 at the dam. Traveling along Highway 12 and the parallel military road, units of the 4th Stryker Brigade will have to invest lots of little villages along the way to Haditha. In the meantime, the SEALs will only have close air support to fight off ISIS units around the dam. But as these ISIS forces move between villages they will be susceptible to extensive aerial ground attack and interdiction… Task Force Red-1: Units of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force team up with the Iraqi 3rd Motorized Division and begin moving out from Kirkuk. Marine 1b/2M and 2b/2M will advance toward Ash Shakh, while investing the towns of Hawija and Azuya along the way. Marine 1b/6M and 2b/6M will advance down Rt.19 toward Al Fathah, with the 6th LAR leading the way and the Iraqi 3rd Motorized Division covering the Marines southern flank toward Baiji… Task Force Red-2: The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit will team up with the Iraqi 2nd Division and advance from Irbil toward the Tigris River. The Iraqis will cover the northern flank on the road toward Kalak; the Marine’s India Company and a battalion of Peshmerga guerrillas advance from Irbil to Al Qayyarah and the Marine’s Kilo Company and the 2nd Tank Battalion advance from Irbil toward Makhmur and Ash Sharqat. The Marines 3/8 Alpha Company is placed in reserve for the Marine force in Irbil. VMM-365 to fly close air support for Marine forces in Irbil and Marine Aircraft Group 14 & 26 flies in support of the Marines in Kirkuk. Both Task Force Reds will coordinate with Iraqi troops, so political arrangements will have to be made beforehand. But ultimately these forces will have to be prepared to take up the bulk of the fighting, especially in the critical sectors along the Tigris River and Highway 1. 

Phase III

This next phase depends upon the length of the fight for the cities of Al Hasakah in Syria and the level of resistance faced at Tel Afar, Haditha and in the villages west of Irbil and Kirkuk. A lot of this depends on the reliability of Iraqi and Peshmerga forces but just getting the Iraqis to remain in the fight will go a long way in fulfilling the main objective of the operation. It is also imperative that SEAL Team-6 at the Haditha Dam and Delta Force at Al Khatuniyah and Hassakeh South Dam be thoroughly relieved by allied coalition forces before Phase III takes place. After one week of operations the allied airpower should have made a considerable impact on ISIS mobility and their communications and supply lines.

D+7-15 Nov. 8-16 Task Force Gold 1, 2 & 4: By D+7 the SF-led Peshmerga should have made full contact and relief for the Delta Force units at the reservoir and the dam. All these units will continue to clear out Al Hasakah until all ISIS forces have been completely neutralized. This fight could go on for 1-3 weeks. Coalition air forces will have to fly round-the-clock ground attack sorties to keep ISIS from reinforcing Al Hasakah from their main base at Ar Raqqah… TF Silver: SF-led Peshmerga should have seized the Tel Afar Airbase by the end of the first week. Once the airbase has been taken, the Ranger units at Rabiah can begin to be cycled out and replaced by Iraqi Army or Kurdish forces. Another Marine reserve battalion, 2b/8M can then be shuttled into Tel Afar to augment the 1b/8M at Rabiah and the air base. Obviously there will still be a lot of local mopping-up operations in the surrounding areas around the airbase. These will be conducted by Marine forces and their Peshmerga allies; heavily rearmed and resupplied by American forces… TF Green-3: After completely recycling the Ranger units from the crucial Al Qaim crossing, the 173rd Airborne Brigade will hold the crossing with the infantry forces while the 2nd Battalion, 503rd ABI Rgt leads the way east along the Euphrates River toward Haditha. The brigade’s Special Troops battalion and the cavalry squadron will begin reconnaissance patrols to the southwest along Highway 20… TF Green-4: The Stryker Brigade Combat Team will continue to invest the towns of Haditha, Barwana and Haqlaniyah at the critical road junction on the west bank of the Euphrates. This should now become the most critical part of the operation and probably the most dangerous considering that the majority Sunnis in the area will most likely have pro-ISIS sentiments. Airpower will play a decisive role in keeping the enemy from reinforcing their positions at the road junction between Rt.12 and Rt.19… TF Red: Coordination between the Marines and the Iraqi Army now becomes critical. In conjunction with the Marine’s advance from the east toward the Tigris River, a major Iraqi offensive on Baiji will be crucial to keep ISIS from moving north from Tikrit. Depending on the level of resistance the Marines will face, TF Red-1 should reach the Tigris River by D+15 and be able to reinforce the Iraqi push to the Tigris River Bridge on Rt. 19. Ideally, it must be the Iraqis who cross the bridge first in order to shut down the main north-south Highway 1 but the presence of American airpower will probably limit ISIS forces from heavily using the highway. Considerable resistance in the villages east of the Tigris can be expected but once the Marines reach the river they can begin augmenting their patrols to the south when all the battalions’ linkup… TF Red-2: Marine Forces will halt at the Great Zab River at Kalak and Al Qayyarah. Peshmerga forces will begin to cycle in for the Marines at Kalak and the Iraqi 2nd Division should be ready to take over for the Marines once they reach Al Qayyarah. 

Phase IV

D+15-22, Nov. 16-23; TF Gold 1&2: Once Al Hasakah has been secured; US Armed Forces can commence an airlift of Free Syrian Army and other Kurdish groups to hold the city against further attack from ISIS forces from Ar Raqqah. Coalition airpower will now be directed solely to this sector… TF Silver: Marine forces and their Peshmerga allies will assault the ISIS held town of Sinjar, on the Syrian-Iraqi border. American airpower will comb the roads leading in and out of the town for ISIS forces and keep heavy pressure on the city of Mosul to keep ISIS from escaping the city to reinforce the contested towns and villages to the west. The airbase at Tel Afar should now be fully operational and the resupply effort is in full force… TF Green-3: The 173rd Special Troops Battalion and two companies of the 1st Battalion, 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment will cross the desert down to Tulaylah with heavy air support. Their job is to invest the town and hold it for Iraqi Army reinforcements. Once Tulaylah is taken only Rutbah will remain in enemy hands in TF Green’s sector. Forces in Al Qaim should be in full defense mode, with air strikes hitting enemy forces inside the Syrian border… TF-Green-4: Once Haditha and the surrounding villages are secured, the 4th Stryker Brigade and the detached 1st Squadron, 63rd Armored Rgt. will begin the fight to take the Al Asad Air Base. Once again, heavy ground attack air support will be vital in uncovering ISIS defensive positions in and around the military facility. A vigorous effort will be made to entice some of the more moderate Sunni armed groups to join in the fight along this critical stretch of road leading to Ramadi and Fallujah… TF Red-1: Marines 2nd and 6th regiments, with 2nd LAR and the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion in the lead, begin attack on Baiji in order to open up the Rt.19 Highway to Haditha. Ideally this operation will be in conjunction with an Iraqi Army attack on Tikrit, to the south. Once the road is opened, Marine mobile units will advance toward Haditha. The battle for Baiji will be crucial as pro-ISIS forces will most likely attempt to strengthen their line before Tikrit. Air strikes will be critical in this sector for the duration of the urban fight as ISIS will most assuredly attempt to reinforce the crossroads town… TF Red-2: Once Marine forces reach the Great Zab River at Kalak and Al Qayyarah they will halt and Lima Co. of the 3b/6M will replace India Co. at Al Qayyarah and Alpha Co. of the 3b/8M will replace Kilo Co. at Al Sharqat. The 2nd Tank Battalion will be sent south to reinforce TF Red-1 down in Baiji. US transport craft will begin shuttling Peshmerga Forces into these areas to hold defensive positions. 

Exit Strategy

D+22-30 Nov. 23-30; TF Gold: Once Al Hasakah and surrounding areas have been secured, the Peshmerga forces and other Syrian rebel groups will be encouraged to attack Ash Shaddadah to the south, in order to close down the key ISIS road leading to Sinjar, Tel Afar and Mosul. But this now reverts back to the Syrian rebels. They must be prodded to sustain the momentum and to take the fight back to ISIS by destroying their base at Ash Shaddadah. Coalition airpower should continue to support the Syrian rebels in attacking Ash Shaddadah… TF Silver: After Marine forces capture the town of Sinjar their positions will be gradually turned over to forces from NATO’s Eurocorps, specifically the Germans 291st and 292nd Light Infantry Battalions and their supporting artillery battalion and engineer company. These forces will hold the Tel Afar Airbase and defensive positions around Sinjar for the foreseeable future or at least until defensive arrangements can be negotiated between the Iraqis and/or the Kurds… TF Green-3: 173rd Airborne units can begin filtering out of the line once Eurocorps forces begin shuttling in. The French 3rd Hussar Rgt. and their 110th Infantry Rgt. will begin landing at H1 airbase and if it is thoroughly secure, the Al Asad Air Base further east. These forces primary mission will be the defense of the Al Qaim border crossing. The 173rd Airborne Brigade’s Special Troops Battalion and the two companies of 1st Battalion, 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment will be the last units to pull out; once they’ve returned from investing the town of Tulaylah. It is imperative that defense of this town be handed over directly to the Iraqi Army, as this will be a critical responsibility for the Iraqi Army if they are ever to be able to defend their own country from foreign attack… TF Green-4: These forces will continue to buttress the defenses of Al Asad Airbase and will gather the two remaining Marine reserve infantry companies from 3b/8M to reinforce the area around Haditha. Forces from the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team will conclude their mission once TF Red-1 forces linkup with them on the Rt.19 junction with Rt. 12 near Barwana. This is another critical area which the Iraqi Army will have to take from the Americans and special political arrangements will have to be made to ensure the Iraqi Army is up to the challenge. Because of this it is entirely possible that American and NATO combat advisors will remain at Al Asad Airbase for the foreseeable future. Once the rest of TF Red-1 forces take Baiji, they will begin to move on Tikrit but this will only be a feint, in support of the larger Iraqi Army offensive that will have to be made if they have any chance of holding ISIS from ever being a serious threat again. These Marine forces will gradually give way once the British 16th Air Assault Brigade begins landing in Kirkuk… TF-Red-2 can begin immediate evacuation once they have turned over all their combat duties to the Peshmerga and/or other Iraqi Army forces. This will also be a critical sector since no effort was made by the Americans to seize the city of Mosul from ISIS. This will leave substantial enemy forces in the city but the prior operations should have completely isolated it from ISIS supply lines and it will remain up to the Iraqis how they want to retake the Northern Iraqi city. 


Operation Terminal Spirit is not meant to completely destroy ISIS. However its separate operational components will have severely hindered their freedom of maneuver by cutting it off from its main supply and communications lines. By cutting the long logistics snake at several key areas along the Syrian-Iraqi border and in areas of the Iraqi interior it utilizes to freely move from north to south, the remaining ISIS forces will be most vulnerable to further isolation and contraction by Iraqi and/or Kurdish forces. Extensive air strikes during the operation will have greatly degraded its ability to concentrate its main attack forces and severely hindered its freedom of movement on the open roads of the Iraqi interior. By striking out against ISIS in Syria, Operation Terminal Spirit will have critically impeded a key ISIS communications line to their forces in Northern Iraq and neutralized a major jumping off point for mobile forces moving into Iraq. By doing so the operation should have greatly assisted the Syrian rebels in sustaining the combat initiative in those areas where ISIS has little support; especially the area of Kurdish lands in the northeast of the country.

By seizing the Al Qaim border crossing, Operation Terminal Spirit eliminates a major transit route into Iraq for ISIS forces moving east from Ar Raqqah and forces them to use the longer, remote route across Al Anbar Province through Al Rutbah. This was another strategic gateway town that the operation avoided simply because the coalition’s airpower has a far better effect in encumbering the flow of enemy forces from the air than a prolonged ground force presence could do in such a remote and featureless plain. With the taking of the Rabiah crossing in the north and the town of Sinjar to its south, ISIS forces have been seriously hindered in reinforcing their presence in Mosul. But this doesn’t completely negate the threat to Mosul. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces will continue to play a critical role in keeping the area south of the Mosul Dam and the Tel Afar Airbase free from ISIS penetration. The operations in the interior of the country, if anything, should have seriously reduced ISIS fighting power by engaging and defeating some of its most formidable field units. But a lot of the progress in the Iraqi interior will have to be maintained by a more inclusive government approach to the minority Sunni communities west of Baghdad.

Obviously there are critical contingencies that need to be resolved if Operation Terminal Spirit is to have any chance of success; not the least of which is the complete collaboration and combat support of the Iraqi Army. But if the government in Baghdad is wholly interested in holding their country together and minimizing the threat to its government institutions in the capital than a proper level of political and military cooperation is definitely in their best interest. The same might be said of America’s military allies in NATO, who probably have a bigger concern in neutralizing the ISIS threat since so many of their fighters seem to have been recruited from within their midst. The British and French have firmly embraced the use of airpower to strike back against ISIS. Now they simply have to be persuaded into believing that airpower alone will not bring them the results they so desperately desire. This might not be so difficult to consider as long as America’s NATO allies can be wholeheartedly sold on the plan and they can honestly believe that American ground troops will be entrusted with the lion’s share of the heavy fighting. This could even go a long way in showcasing NATO’s military resolve and joint combat operational efficiency at a time when Russia keeps flexing its muscles. 

The one drawback that would obviously bring out a host of red flags from the Pentagon is the plan’s perhaps over-reliance on many of the best Special Forces operatives in the American order of battle. There is no doubt that Terminal Spirit would probably be one of the biggest unconventional force undertakings in American military history. And these units are all fairly busy in combatting current military threats in Libya, Yemen, the Mideast and in sub-Saharan Africa. But their exact precision and combat capabilities are exactly what is needed to thwart the ISIS advance; especially in Syria where a conventional American military presence is most decidedly, out of the question. Yet these units already enjoy a fairly good working relationship with the Kurds and their close guidance and combat experience might be just what the Kurds need to retake the initiative from their newest, military opponents. How they might coordinate military operations with the Free Syrian Army is a dilemma that warrants special attention but it is not out of the question to believe that some of these forces can be enticed to join the battle in Northeast Syria for a promise of expedited arms deliveries.

Finally there is the perplexing problem of putting together an adequate force relative to the combat tasks at hand. In our original war games we attempted to use a far smaller force yet continuously got stymied whenever it ventured beyond its original staging areas. It was not only necessary to deploy a force with maximum mobility and offensive firepower to engage and pursue the enemy but they also needed adequate organic forces to defend their bases from not only ISIS but also from its more unpredictable allied cohorts in the insurgent Sunni militias. What was needed the most was the deployment of unique conventional forces that have patently aggressive, flexible and resolute command tendencies. After first considering a makeshift force of US Marines based on their expeditionary brigades, we opted for the deployment of the whole 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, since its numerous combat formations could offer a powerful reserve force for not only the Marines in Irbil and Kirkuk but also for the Stryker and airborne brigades in Anbar Province. The overwhelming presence of American airpower, especially with the addition of organic strike aircraft in the Marine air wings, provides a comfortable, three-dimensional combat protection of the limited forces involved to assure bold and creative, offensive maneuver on the ground and sufficient protection on the defense.

Operation Terminal Spirit endeavors to utilize the most advanced, state-of-the-art, combat operations systems and force structures in the American military inventory. It is a limited ground force operation that could plausibly be deployed within a month of activation, if not sooner. By utilizing a limited conventional force and numerous special operations contingents, Terminal Spirit can effectively do in one month what a comprehensive air war might do in 2-3 years. It won’t completely destroy ISIS but it could reasonably be expected to set the group’s current advance back by years and reduce its force structure by a half to two-thirds. More importantly, it can do this with no more than 40,000 combat troops on the ground. Considering that the recent reports out of Iraq and Syria still has ISIS advancing on all fronts despite the use of combat air strikes from a dozen different nations, it is probably time that the western world rethinks its military approach by resolving to fight this abominable threat from the ground on up, instead of the sky on down.