Warn­ing from US as Mo­sul con­flict shrinks

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

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.

ALAA AL-MARJANI / REUTERS

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.

JORGE SILVA / REUTERS

A woman and her fam­ily sit in the back of a mil­i­tary truck af­ter be­ing res­cued from the com­bat zone in Marawi city.

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