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Don't expect peshmerga to beat Islamic State

The Islamic State is a well-organized and mobile fighting force, while Iraqi Kurdish forces are not the battle-hardened veterans some have made them out to be.
A Kurdish fighter keeps guard while overlooking positions of Islamic State militants near Mosul in northern Iraq August 19, 2014. Sunni Muslim fighters led by the Islamic State swept through much of northern and western Iraq in June, capturing the Sunni cities of Tikrit and Mosul as well as the Mosul dam, which controls water and power supplies to millions of people down the Tigris river valley.                REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR4

In recent days, there have been excessively optimistic media assessments that the US air operations against Islamic State (IS) targets have blunted IS advances and the recovery of the Mosul Dam could well be the “beginning of the end” for IS. Such optimistic conclusions are also backed by predictions that the Kurdish peshmerga and the Iraqi military, backed by US air power, could bring about the end of IS. How realistic are these over-optimistic opinions? As a military analyst who knows Iraq well — having served in the field in Iraq in 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2004 and in Afghanistan in 2005 — I don’t think the US air attacks will produce definitive results. They may disrupt IS operational capacity temporarily, but will not eliminate it.

Why not? For the answer, one must look at the order of battle, organization and military tactics of IS, which can be best described as a semi-military, semi-political body that wants to translate its day-by-day military gains into a long-lasting political body. To that end, IS fields generally motorized companies of 80 to 100 men or battalions with 200 to 300 fighters, skilled in urban warfare, highly mobile and capable of executing terrorist tactics such as improvised explosive device attacks and hit-and-run attacks, as well as conventional military tactics at the company and battalion levels. I don’t agree with the view that IS is a new offspring of al-Qaeda. IS is a new breed that has caused much confusion to international actors who can’t decide what to do against IS. We are facing an organization and a modus operandi we are not at all familiar with.

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