The Pentagon's disclosure that U.S. and Iraqi forces are planning a massive spring offensive against ISIS combatants in Mosul is raising alarm among analysts, who warn that civilians who reside in Iraq's second largest city could pay a heavy price.
An anonymous official from U.S. Central Command told reporters on Thursday that the attack will involve 20,000 to 25,000 troops, comprised mostly of Iraqi Army brigades, but also including three Kurdish peshmerga brigades.
"U.S. ground forces—including special operations and forward air controllers—could be involved," according to an NBC News paraphrasing of the official's statements. It was not immediately clear what these potential roles entail, or how many U.S. boots-on-the-ground could be involved in the operation. The U.S. is already in the process of mobilizing more troops to the region: in addition to the 3,000 U.S. troops ordered to deploy to Iraq, more than 4,000 U.S. troops are currently headed to Kuwait.
Experts on the region expressed worry about what the military offensive could mean for local residents, based on the track record of the U.S. Iraqi forces.
"I am extremely concerned at the level of violations committed by the U.S. and its allies in Iraq and Syria," Raed Jarrar, Policy Impact Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, told Common Dreams. "These violations include direct U.S. attacks but also the massive human rights violations by proxy groups that have been funded and trained and equipped by the United States. These groups include sectarian and ethnic militias and the Iraqi central government's forces."
Jarrar continued, "There are extreme concerns that these violations happened during small scale operations around smaller towns, and now the U.S. is planning to use the same model against major cities."
Robert Naiman, policy director for Just Foreign Policy, told Common Dreams, "The Administration should tell Congress and the American people what the role of U.S. ground troops in this operation will be, and what their plan is to protect civilians in Mosul from being killed by U.S. bombing. Members of Congress should be pressed to say whether they agree with this plan."
The White House and Pentagon, however, have shared little information with the public about the role of the U.S. military in the more than six-months-old war on ISIS or about the civilians killed in the over 2,500 air strikes launched by the U.S. and coalition forces.
Moreover, it was not immediately clear why the Pentagon chose to reveal plans for the alleged Mosul offensive on Thursday.
The L.A. Times described the disclosure as an "unusual move" and speculated that it was intended, in part, "to rattle the estimated 2,000 Sunni fighters believed to hold the northern Iraqi city."
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Analysts and journalists took to Twitter to speculate on the possible motive behind the disclosure.
What conceivable benefit could there be to announcing a Spring Mosul offensive other than making CVE gabfest seem less inert?
— David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) February 20, 2015
— Chris Woods (@chrisjwoods) February 20, 2015
According to Jarrar, the announcement is likely aimed at sending a "political message to those who have been critical that, over the last six months, they haven't been able to do anything to defeat extremism.
"Unfortunately," Jarrar continued, "Rather than realizing that using the same military-only tools in dealing with extremism will not yield results in the future, the U.S. is doubling down and promising to send more military solutions."
Meanwhile, Central Command announced Friday that it has launched numerous air strikes in Iraq and Syria since Thursday, including five near Mosul. Furthermore, the anonymous official revealed Thursday that Qatar will host a site for coalition forces to train "moderate" Syrian combatants.
The ongoing strikes, and alleged plans for a Mosul offensive, come despite the fact that Congress has held no formal vote on President Barack Obama's request last week for authorization of military force in the war against ISIS.