A month into Mosul assault, tough fighting still ahead
BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces have broken into jihadist-held Mosul and recaptured neighborhoods inside the city, but a month into their offensive, there are still weeks or more of potentially heavy fighting ahead.
Iraq launched the massive operation to recapture Mosul, which has been held by the Islamic State group since 2014, on October 17, advancing on the city from the north, east and south. Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service and regular army soldiers have retaken areas on its eastern side from IS, but forces on other fronts have yet to enter the city. “Fighting inside of the city is likely to grow increasingly more difficult as the (Iraqi forces) progress through Mosul’s more modern eastern neighborhoods towards its older, denser centre,” said Patrick Martin, an Iraq analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.
The jihadists’ “use of tunnels, human shields, suicide car bombs, and other attack capabilities will become harder to counter as fighters are forced into closer quarters by the nature of the city’s geography,” Martin said.
But Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy cautioned that the nature of IS defenses deeper in the city remains unclear. “We don’t know if the current fighting represents the most heavily fortified (and) defended neighborhoods or a precursor to the toughest fighting” in the old city, Knights said. “We could be fighting through a hard crust with a soft inside, or it could be all hard,” he said.
Third of eastern Mosul retaken
The United States has said that hundreds of IS fighters have been killed since the offensive began, but those figures cannot be independently confirmed. Iraqi forces have not released information about their casualties. Interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan has said that more than a third of eastern Mosul has been retaken, but that would still leave a significant part of the east and all of the west-which is expected to put up the toughest resistance-in IS hands.
Iraqi Kurdish forces played a role in the early days of the Mosul operation, but said after recapturing the town of Bashiqa to the city’s east that their offensive participation in the battle is over. Interior ministry forces, including the elite Rapid Response Division, as well as soldiers on the southern front have had the longest way to go to reach Mosul, but they are now nearing the airport on its southern outskirts.
A US-led coalition is carrying out air and artillery strikes in support of Iraqi forces, and said it has targeted the jihadists with thousands of bombs, missiles, rockets and shells.