Warning from US as Mosul conflict shrinks
MOSUL, Iraq — United States Army Colonel Pat Work and a small team of about a dozen soldiers drove through western Mosul in two unmarked armored vehicles.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had just declared the end of the Islamic State group’s caliphate the day before, but the fighting still raged on as Iraqi forces prepared for another big push.
Work had a series of urgent calls to make: to talk face-toface with generals from the Iraqi Army, the federal police and the Iraqi special forces.
While the gains in the Old City are bringing Iraqi troops closer to victory against IS in Mosul, they also mean the three branches of the coun- try’s security forces are now fighting in closer quarters than ever before.
The new battle space and lingering communication shortcomings mean Iraqi ground troops are at increased risk of being hit by non-precision fire like mortars and artillery by their own side, he said.
Throughout the course of the day, Work shuttled between bases and command centers inside the city meeting with Iraqi commanders deep inside Mosul, underscoring the increasingly prominent US role in the offensive as it enters its final days.
“It’s a very violent, close fight,” said Work, the commander of the 82nd Airborne’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team who deployed to Iraq in January. “When the bullets aren’t enough the commanders want to turn to high explosives which might be mortars or artillery ... so understanding where the other guy is all the time is kind of rule No 1, so the lethal effect is directed at the target and not accidentally at another player that’s on your team.”
The various forces t hat make up Iraq’s military have long struggled with coordination. While the Mosul operation is overseen by a joint operations command and the Prime Minister, forces on the ground maintain independent command structures, standards and cultures. The Mosul fight is the first time all three forces have had to cooperate in an urban environment and throughout the operation the army, federal police and special forces have faced deadly setbacks when they acted independently, allowing IS fighters to concentrate their defenses on a single front.
With the vast majority of Mosul retaken from IS, soldiers trained by the coalition to fight in combat are now transitioning to act as hold forces to help provide security. Even after the last pockets of the city are retaken, Work said he doesn’t expect that will necessarily mean an end to the US role in Mosul.
“Mosul is going to be a challenge, ISIS is going to continue to challenge the hold,” he said, using an alternative acronym for the IS. He said US troops would continue to facilitate coordination and provide advice just as they did during the offensive.
“We will continue to help Iraqi commanders recognize that this is what you fought for,” Work said.
A displaced woman sits near the ruined Grand al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, on Saturday after intense fighting between coalition forces and IS.
A woman and her family sit in the back of a military truck after being rescued from the combat zone in Marawi city.