Thursday, December 18, 2014

US ground forces in Iraq finally get some action (maybe).

ISIS may have made a mistake on Sunday.  According to Kurdish media, ISIS got just close enough to American forces to give them an excuse to use their self-defense clause to engage and rout ISIS forces.  Ain-al Assad is an air base that was a major hub for the US military during Operation Iraqi Freedom before being turned over to Iraqi forces.  ISIS has attacked it several times in the past before US troops returned and began to use it again. A two-hour engagement between ISIS and joint Iraqi-US forces led to ISIS forces withdrawing after several casualties, many of their forces dropping their weapons in an attempt to blend in with locals.  The efficiency of the encounter was most likely due to the effective use of close air support (CAS), a dimension the Iraqi forces are sorely lacking in. 

ISIS, for all its skill at media manipulation, is essentially a large semi-organized mob.  It has little chance of success in conventional warfare against US forces that are not hamstrung by political hobbles.  Currently, however, US forces are incapable of engaging the enemy outside of their limited self-defense bubble except with air strikes, and the Iraqi and Kurdish forces don’t have the capacity or capability to fully utilize air power.  Which leads to a problem.

What do you do when you’re committed to a war but you don’t want to use your own ground troops?  Need to avoid those pesky “boots on the ground” and all those political ramifications?  Hire mercenaries!  Except you can’t call them that anymore.  Private military company is the preferred terminology these days, and the practitioners are now called civilian contractors, a very large category that covers everything from mechanics to cooks to dealers of violence.

And what a deal!  Sure, hiring these modern day Auxilia isn’t cheap, but in comparison to the costs of deploying traditional troops and the infrastructure and support that entails, it’s a bargain!  No pensions, no long-term health care, no political or moral motivations to keep paying them once their use is up.  Should a civilian contractor be killed, it probably won’t even make the headlines.  This seems like the way that the US has decided to go forward with its presently unwinnable fight against ISIS, as the Pentagon has had feelers out gauging PMCs’ interest for a while now, and companies are reportedly actively recruiting former Special Operations soldiers to engage in combat operations in Iraq.  Raidon Tactics, Inc. has worked for Special Operations Command before, but the interesting part of their current recruiting is the specifics of the description.  Not just training, but direct action.  With the particular interest being put into JTAC (joint terminal attack controller) skills, a possible model could be embedding JTAC trained contractors with Iraqi or Kurdish forces to control CAS, thus marrying air support with ground forces. 

Hiring PMCs is the obvious step for the US in lieu of sending in ground forces.  Arming local militias has occasionally worked, but it has backfired just as often and the arms and supplies have either gone directly to enemy combatants or been picked up by them once untrained militias have abandoned them in their attempts at fleeing.  American PMCs are primarily recruited from well-trained former American service members, and they have a vested interest in maintaining high standards.  One of the most well-known proponents of the field, Erik Prince, has called for the expansion of PMC usage against ISIS. There are obvious far-reaching implications and concerns of increasing American reliance upon private military companies, but there is little doubt about their effectiveness on the battle ground.  


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