Eight months after Islamic State fighters captured Mosul in a stunning four-day assault, an Iraqi force and its American allies are going to try and take it back. An official from U.S. Central Command announced on Thursday that a combined Iraqi and Kurdish army of around 25,000 soldiers will launch an offensive in the city in April or May, timed to occur before the arrival of Ramadan and blistering summer weather.
Almost immediately, the announcement has elicited controversy. On Capitol Hill, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham sent President Obama a letter accusing the announcement of "risking the success of our mission"—even though such disclosures are not actually that unusual. The news was no more welcome in Iraq, where Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi fumed on Sunday that any assault on Mosul was for Baghdad to decide, not Washington.
Nevertheless, the controversy surrounding Thursday's announcement has obscured a far more important question: Is the operation going to work?
On paper, the Iraqi forces should win easily. No more than an estimated 2,000 ISIS fighters currently control Mosul, a city of 1 million. And in addition to their numerical superiority, the Iraqi-Kurdish forces will have additional support of U.S. airstrikes.