The long-awaited offensive in the fight for Mosul by the Iraqi government forces (and its current allies – the Shia militias and Peshmerga) has been underway for a number of weeks. The city was taken by the Islamic State in the summer of 2014 and it took over two years for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) to get the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) reconstituted and retrained so it could conduct this offensive. The fighting is hard and difficult in an urban environment where every street poses danger in the form of snipers, roadside IEDs, suicide bombers, and other threats.
The weather and season (now winter) has an effect on the fight for Mosul and in securing the surrounding areas. Cloud cover limits the use of surveillance aircraft and drones and reduces the effectiveness of close air support.
The government forces are slowly securing the outer neighborhoods of the city but progress in the more urbanized parts of the city is slow – the dense urban structures favor the Islamic State fighters and there is great concern for the impact of fighting on the civilian population. The ‘Golden Division’ or Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) is doing the brunt of the fighting along its axis of advance in the eastern neighborhoods of Mosul.
West of the city the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have taken Tal Afar airport (where U.S. forces used to have an incredible dining facility). The PMF is currently clearing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from the airport. The PMF is working hard to cut the road between Mosul and Sinjar. This road connects the Islamic State forces in the Mosul area to Islamic State forces in Syria. News reports state that the PMF is now concentrating on securing the center of Tal Afar.
The Kurds are also heavily involved in the fight to liberate Mosul. They are slowly gaining more territory on the outskirts of Mosul. It will be interesting to watch the role of the Kurds in the aftermath of the battle for Mosul.
Some interesting articles are referenced below about the current fight for Mosul and what happens after the city is taken by the government security forces.
Liberation of Mosul – Over a month old. Read “1 Month in, Iraq Still Faces Grueling Urban Combat in Mosul”, The New York Times, November 17, 2016.
Shiite Militias and Tal Afar. The Shiite militias are numbering in the thousands in the Tal Afar area and will soon take that city. Read “Iraq’s ascendant Shiite militias take the fight to Tal Afar”, Military Times, November 21, 2016.
The Aftermath. So what comes after the city of Mosul is taken from the Islamic State by the Iraqi government forces? Andrew L. Peek provides his thoughts in “Between Iraq and a Hard Place”, Foreign Policy, November 11, 2016.
Trump and the Mosul Offensive. President-Elect Trump has taken some heat in his criticism of the U.S. generals and their actions and policies on the re-capture of Mosul, Iraq from the Islamic State. One of Trump’s criticisms is that a “surprise attack” should have taken place instead of a deliberate build up of forces. SECDEF Carter thinks not. Read “Carter refutes Trump’s criticism of Mosul offensive”, Washington Examiner, November 14, 2016.
Executions by ISIS in Mosul. The Islamic State organization in Mosul is reportedly “. . . seized by growing suspicion and paranoia.” See “Special Report: Under siege in Mosul, Islamic State turns to executions and paranoia”, Reuters, November 16, 2016.
Suicide Car Bombs Slow Mosul Advance. The Islamic Fighters are using suicide car bombs against the Iraqi government forces. Read more in “Iraqi troop search for suicide car bombs in eastern Mosul”, Military Times, November 21, 2016.
Former Iraqi Police Executed by ISIS. Reports are surfacing that the Islamic State is executing former Iraqi policemen by the hundreds in the Mosul area. (Reuters, November 17, 2016).
Post-Battle: ISIS Will Go Underground. Once the recapture of Mosul – the second largest city in Iraq – is complete the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) will have to shift from intense and dangerous urban warfare to dealing with an insurgency using terrorist tactics. As soon as the ISF defeat ISIS in Mosul it must shift gears and “. . . identify, disrupt, and ultimately defeat the Islamic State’s enabler networks . . .” Read more in “After the Battle for Mosul, Get Ready for the Islamic State to go Underground”, War on the Rocks, October 18, 2016.
CJTF-OIR Presser. Spokesman COL John Dorrian for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) briefs Pentagon Press Corps on operations in Syria and Iraq on November 16th. Nice photo of the “Mad Max” suicide vehicle is presented.
Remembering ‘Spongebob’. A photojournalist who has been embedded with the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) befriended a fighter in the Golden Division (another name for the CTS). He shares his story about ‘Spongebob’ who was recently killed in the fight for Mosul by an IED. Read “Mosul battle: Remembering Iraqi special forces soldier ‘Spongebob'”, BBC News, November 21, 2016.