A month into Mo­sul as­sault, tough fight­ing still ahead

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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.

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