Pentagon Tries to Psych Out ISIS

The Pentagon on Thursday telegraphed its upcoming operation to take back Iraq’s second largest city, a keystone to defeating the self-proclaimed Islamic State, saying the fight could start within weeks. The announcement seemed to be an attempt to wage a psychological war—that a well-trained and U.S.-backed Iraqi army would push the terror group out of Mosul. In a briefing with reporters, a CENTCOM official said the U.S. and Iraqi forces were planning to line up as many as 25,000 Iraqi and Peshmerga troops to take on the 2,000 ISIS fighters who control the city.

The Iraqi forces will include five Iraqi army brigades, three Iraqi army reserve brigades, three Peshmerga brigades, and two additional forces, the official said. About 2,000 of those troops have yet to receive training for the upcoming mission; they will be part of a group of forces tasked with holding the city once it is out if ISIS’s grip. The campaign is slated to begin sometime in April or May, said the CENTCOM official, who spoke to reporters on the condition that he not be named.

That the Pentagon would announce the makeup, time frame, and goal of a military campaign is unusual, particularly against a group considered to be one of the world’s most lethal. Indeed, ISIS stormed Mosul (and took control of it on June 10) in large part because the Iraqi forces stationed there ran away from their posts. ISIS’s swift sweep through Mosul sparked the U.S.-led military campaign.

The ISIS war has been as much a psychological battle as a combat one. The group has released gruesome videos of the killing of hostages, waged a persistent media and online campaign, and created an image of itself as a brutal organization that seeks to control vast portions of the Middle East and create its vision of an Islamic caliphate. The CENTCOM official said he was announcing the details of the upcoming operation to demonstrate “the level of commitment… to this upcoming operation.”

—Nancy A. Youssef