ISIS has renewed its Ramadi offensive, and Iraqi sources are now reporting that the ISIS flag now flies from the provincial government building. If these reports are true, they represent not just a military victory and propaganda coup for ISIS (I’m being redundant), but a serious failure for the Iraqi government and for the Obama Administration’s military strategy. Once the fight enters a built-up, urban area, the limits of air strike-dependent tactics are exposed. Without American troops on the ground, we either have to depend on Iraqi forces to hold the line or risk creating large-scale urban destruction from the air — an action that can not only cause widespread civilian casualties but can also — unless well-aimed — do little more than create mounds of rubble that serve as effective cover for ISIS fighters.
During the latter part of the Surge, there were Iraqi units who were effective at urban combat, but they were accompanied by American advisers who not only engaged in direct combat but could also precisely direct air strikes where they would be most effective. But we of course refuse to adopt that battle-tested approach, preferring instead to risk further ISIS gains rather than change tactics.
Ironically, this new ISIS advance occurs just as the Obama administration urged networks to update their ISIS “b-roll” to better reflect the facts on the ground. According to the administration, the old, triumphant, footage of ISIS from last spring and summer no longer reflects reality. I agree that footage needs to reflect reality as much as possible, but I’m not sure it’s progress to replace old images of the black flag of ISIS over Tikrit with newer images of the same flag over Ramadi.