'Telegraphing' of plan to retake Mosul not unprecedented, may be strategic

Within hours of the announcement by an unnamed U.S. military official that plans were underway to retake the key Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS, the criticism began.

"That is pretty amazing that that information's out there," retired Gen. Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff and a Fox News military analyst, said Friday. Top Republican senators also demanded answers, saying the disclosure has put the mission at risk.

"Never in our memory can we recall an instance in which our military has knowingly briefed our own war plans to our enemies," Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a letter to President Obama.

But the deliberate publicizing of an upcoming military assault is not unprecedented, and some military experts note it is very much in keeping with U.S. military planning and strategy in recent years for large-scale offensives.

U.S. Marines publically declared their intentions months in advance to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004. The announcement allowed insurgents to "escape" and prepare for one of the deadliest operations of the Iraq War.

In weeks leading up to the American and Afghan invasion of the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in 2010, coalition commanders all but announced the time and date of the invasion.

"It's no secret we're going there,” Marine Gen. Larry Nicholson told Reuters two months before the assault began. “There's an inevitability that there's a date with destiny with Marjah and we're moving toward that."

Leaflets were dropped by helicopter all over the remote Afghan city warning civilians and insurgents that an offensive was coming, while Afghan and ISAF officials were quoted in Western newspapers and on Afghan TV and radio saying an operation involving thousands of U.S., British and Afghan troops was imminent.

In 2010, like today, U.S. military commanders explain that modern communications make it all but impossible to hide or keep undercover large military operations. As a practical matter, the effort to conceal what insurgents already expect may not be  worth the effort, they say. And perhaps more importantly, some U.S. military planners believe the publicity for the offensive outweighs the secrecy. In a day and age where protecting non-combatants is paramount, telegraphing an assault provides civilians an opportunity to flee.

There is also a tactical reason for giving your enemy a heads up. Like in Marjah, the U.S. led-coalition wants to keep ISIS fighters in a "defensive crouch." The hope is the relatively few and outgunned ISIS insurgents will have exhausted themselves spending every minute thinking and worrying about the coming encounter with 25,000 well-armed Iraqi troops.

Whether or not this strategy of "telegraphing" the operation is smart or not is very much up for debate but its precedence is not.

Conor Powell is a foreign correspondent for Fox News Channel