Lang: JCS Wants a Reinforced Combat Brigade in Baghdad for Security
July 4, 2014 • 10:47AM

Retired DIA officer Col. Patrick Lang reports on his blog, yesterday, that, while Obama has put a few hundred US troops on the ground in Baghdad along with a few Apache helicopters, what the Joint Chiefs of Staff say they really need for that missions is a reinforced Army combat brigade. Lang reports that the JCS has told the White House that there are three key pieces of terrain in the Baghdad area:

1) The US embassy: The State Department has been slowly withdrawing some of its people in the embassy and the Marine guard has been reinforced there, but the embassy is indefensible in the long term. The best that reinforced security could do is buy time for the destruction of documents and communications equipment.

2) The Baghdad airport: Lang stresses that, based on the terrain now held by ISIS and related forces, an overland evacuation of Americans from Baghdad is no longer possible, meaning that they must now be evacuated by air. The problem is that the ISIS forces now possess heavy artillery that they captured from the Iraqi army, including US-made M198 155-mm howitzers, which have a range in excess of 20 km. An airport can easily be shut down by artillery shells landing on runways, taxiways and parking ramps, and then there's the problem of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

"To keep the airport functioning and civilian aircrews willing to operate in and out of there, a continuous procress of searching the surrounding neighborhoods to the east, employing counter-battery radar to locate firing positions and aggressive use of things like armed helicopters to harass and destroy the guns," writes Lang.

3) The road from the US embassy to the airport: The 15 km route runs through Sunni neighborhoods in western Baghdad. During much of the US occupation, the airport road was infamous for being one of the most dangerous roads for US troops in the entire country.

Instead of the 4,500 troops the JCS analysis suggested were needed to secure these pieces of terrain, they got 300. "This seems a political decision," Lang concludes.

The need to evacuate American civilians from Iraq was barely touched on Thursday, during the press briefing by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey. They both specified that security is, indeed, one of the two missions (the other being the advise and assist mission) of the handful of US troops on the ground in Iraq. Dempsey spoke of the need to "preserve options." The airport, he said, "not the entire airport but that part of it that we need for logistics, resupply (ph) and potentially for evacuation, we are protecting that part of the airport for that purpose," he said.

Hagel, Dempsey: There Is No US Combat Mission In Iraq, At Least Not Yet

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey stressed, during a press briefing at the Pentagon, Thursday, that there is, as of now, no combat mission for the US troops that have been deployed to Iraq. The two missions underway, are the securing of the US embassy as well as other US facilities and the Baghdad airport, and the assess-and-advise mission of about 200 US special forces troops now on the ground in Baghdad and, now, also Irbil in the north. "None of these troops are performing combat missions," Hagel said. "None will perform combat missions."

Of course, that could change, depending on what the assessment teams bring back, and they've already brought back initial assessments. Among the initial assessments are these, according to Dempsey: ISIL has made rapid advances but is now overstretched; and the Iraqi security forces are stiffening around Baghdad but they "would be challenged" to go on the offensive to retake lost territory because of a lack of logistics.

Dempsey indicated that the challenge for the DoD is how to deal with the threat presented by ISIL without doing what the US did in 2003 and 2006, that is, with the initial invasion of Iraq and the surge that followed. "This is a very different approach than we've — than we've taken in the past. I mean, assessing, advising, and enabling are very different roads than — than attacking, defeating, and disrupting," Dempsey said. Obama may decide that direct action is necessary, but "I'm just suggesting to you we're not there yet." Dempsey did explicitly indicate that the option of US air strikes remains on the table, should the assessment call for that.