Tactics of battle for Iraq’s Mosul
BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces have launched a final push to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, which seized the country’s second city more than two years ago. Here are some of the tactics that will likely be employed by Iraqi security forces, and those IS may use against them:
Encirclement then assault
Iraqi forces will fight their way to Mosul and then seek to encircle the city before launching an attack inside it-tactics they have used in operations to retake other IS-held cities including Ramadi and Tikrit. The eventual assault into Mosul will likely be led by Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism service, which has spearheaded most operations against the jihadists. To reach Mosul, Iraqi forces will have to advance through several dozen kilometers of IS-held territory, including multiple villages.
The US-led anti-IS coalition will carry out strikes against IS with various types of aircraft, possibly including Apache attack helicopters. The coalition has also deployed artillery including cannons and rocket launchers to provide fire support from the ground. The operation will involve a coalition of sometimes rival Iraqi forces including soldiers, police, peshmerga forces from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, and various pro-government paramilitary groups. The exact role of the various forces has not been publicly announced, but there have been reports of an agreement under which neither the peshmerga nor Iran-backed Shiite militia forces will enter Mosul, leaving that assault primarily to the Iraqi army. Iraqi forces are equipped with assault and sniper rifles, light and heavy machineguns, mine-clearing charges, armored personnel carriers, tanks, various types of artillery, attack helicopters and aircraft including Su-25 and F-16 jets.
Bombs, human shields
IS will be vastly outnumbered in the battle and will seek to use hit-andrun tactics, ambushes, snipers, bombs, berms and trenches to slow down and bleed Iraqi forces. The jihadists have littered other cities with thousands of bombs, placing them in roads, buildings and houses. The large civilian population inside Mosul may have limited the locations they could place explosives, but bombs will still play a major role in IS’s defenses. Obstacles such as earthen barriers-sometimes with bombs inside-will be used to slow down Iraqi forces who will need to clear them to advance, exposing them to ambushes.
IS will target Iraqi troops with suicide bombers wearing explosive vests or belts, and others driving bomb-rigged vehicles. The jihadists may equip attackers with rifles as well as bombs, allowing them to attack with guns and then blow themselves up. The jihadists will likely seek to use Mosul civilians as human shields to limit air strikes against them, and have also previously lit fires in an attempt to provide cover from attacking warplanes. IS seized a large number of armored vehicles, trucks, arms and other equipment when they overran Mosul and other areas in June 2014, but it is unclear how much of it has been lost in previous battles that have driven the jihadists out of much of the territory they seized. IS fighters will be armed with assault and sniper rifles, light and heavy machineguns, armored vehicles, possibly including tanks, mortars, and a wide array of bombs-some planted to be triggered by Iraqi forces, and others set off by suicide bombers.
Questions of timing
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced yesterday that operations to liberate Mosul had begun after already calling an operation to retake Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, in March this year. The timing of Abadi’s announcement is in line with predictions by Western officials, including US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford, that an offensive would be launched in October. A key requirement was the cooperation of peshmerga forces from the autonomous Kurdish region. Their leader Massud Barzani said on Saturday that the time had come to begin operations. Abadi remains on target to keep his promise that Mosul would be liberated in 2016 but it is still unclear when Iraqi forces will be in a position to move into the city proper. Paramilitary forces known as the Hashed Al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) will also take part in fighting in the Mosul theatre. While they are ostensibly under Abadi’s control, the most powerful groups operate with a great deal of autonomy and with input from Tehran.