Last week a 'senior State Department official' gave a background briefing on ISIL's conquest of the remainder of Ramadi a few days ago. Many of us, including myself, had wondered how ISIL could have overwhelmed the Iraqi defenders of the city so easily. Turns out it wasn't that easy at all.
I think it’s important to remember that ISIL first moved in to Ramadi in force on January 1st, 2014, so that was six months before Mosul. The city has been contested for 18 months. Half the city had been under control of ISIL for some time. You might remember Fallujah fell immediately in January of 2014. The Iraqis have been fighting in Ramadi constantly for 18 months, and it was a very vicious, bloody fight. They suffered thousands of casualties over these 18 months.
Our assessment of ISIL all the way back last summer – well, and we’ve said this publicly – is that ISIL as an organization is better in every respect than its predecessor of AQI; it’s better manned, it’s better resourced, they have better fighters, they’re more experienced. And we know what it took for us, the best military in the world, to get a handle on AQI, so I think that also puts things in a little bit of context.
We’ve been working with the Iraqis to hold the center of Ramadi for some time, and I think the last time I spoke with you one of you asked me what keeps you up at night or something. I said look, this is a really formidable enemy; it’s going to have surprises and that’s going to happen over the course of this, what will be a very long, multiyear campaign.
Over the course of 96 hours in Ramadi, and what we’ve been able to collect looking at different things, about 30 suicide VBIDs in Ramadi and the environs of Ramadi. Ten of them, I’ve been told, had the explosive capacity of an Oklahoma City type attack. So just to put that in perspective.
QUESTION: Each of those 10?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Each of those 10. I can’t confirm that, but that’s what I’ve been told. And if you look at the pictures that ISIL has put out of the explosions – I mean, I have some of them – it’s just they took out entire city blocks. And the death toll of the Iraqi Security Forces is not entirely clear, but they lost some leaders, and it was just a really psychological impact of the security remnants that were remaining in Ramadi.
What happened on Sunday is the Iraqis sent – tried to send a reinforcing column into the center of the city, which immediately came under fire; retreated, which then began a broader retreat from where the security forces were holding. And we’re still trying to piece together exactly what happened there.
I think it’s important to note first extremely serious situation. Nobody here from the President on down is saying that this is something that we’ll just overcome immediately. It’s an extremely serious situation, and I’ll talk about the Iraqis’ response as well because they’re seeing it the same way. But it is not the Mosul collapse and disintegration of units. In fact, the units that retreated, retreated, consolidated, and they’re now moved – I won’t say where they are, but they moved to three different points to consolidate, to refit, to regroup, to re-equip. And those units are – the units that retreated remain pretty much intact.
We’ve been working over the last about 96 hours constantly around the clock with our team in Baghdad and our team here to work with the Iraqis to hold – because we all remember the experience from Mosul, where you just had a domino collapse – to hold their lines, consolidate, and just basically hold together, begin to consolidate and think about how to counter-attack. I think the silver lining here is – again, it remains a very serious situation – is that the lines more or less have held. And I’m not going to say exactly where, but you don’t have, again, a Mosul situation of a collapse.
There's more at the link.
Assuming the State Department's information is to be trusted - I'm sure many of us remember its handling of the 2012 Benghazi debacle, and consequently take anything State says with multiple pinches of salt - then that does put a rather different perspective on the fall of Ramadi. The Oklahoma City bomb destroyed a skyscraper and inflicted hundreds of deaths and injuries. Ten of those, relatively close to each other, would be like a massive close air support strike, probably using 20-30 JDAM's or equivalent weapons. Effectively, ISIL used its suicide bombers in the same role as strike aircraft. That would blow a hole through almost any urban defenses I can think of. If its ground forces were prepared to immediately follow up the explosions and exploit the resulting panic and confusion, it's not surprising that they were able to take over the half of the city they didn't yet control.
The question is now, can ISIL keep what it's taken? According to State, the Iraqi Army is regrouping to re-assault the city, and Iranian forces are massing in their support. ISIL can't keep expending suicide bombers like water - by definition, there's a limited supply of such fanatics.
I'll be keeping an eye on developments in and around Ramadi over the next few weeks. Things are going to get 'interesting' there.