Iraqi forces face a tricky urban war
Islamic State putting up fight in Mosul
GWER, IRAQ — Iraqi army Col. Omar Adl Ali and his men, after fierce fighting against Islamic State extremists, listened as their two-way radios buzzed with reports on the government offensive to retake Mosul.
Ali and about 280 soldiers from the 9th Division had fought in the Hamdaniya area southeast of the city, facing off against Islamic State snipers, rocket attacks and suicide bombers as they recaptured villages. They rested at a makeshift command post in an abandoned cinder block house.
“Weencircled the city and now there are some clashes,” Ali said Tuesday at the command post in Gwer. “Islamic State fighters are resisting.”
It’s not clear how much that resistance will slow the offensive to retake the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. Islamic State fighters conquered the city two years ago like an army, staging organized attacks and commandeering military vehicles.
But advancing Iraqi troops face an enemy that has morphed into more of a terrorist network, hiding among civilians and broadcasting misinformation to wage a tricky urban war.
The Iraqi battle for Mosul is being waged from the east and south by a force of 28,000, including 18,000 Iraqi security forces and 10,000 Kurdish fighters, according to U.S. officials.
The Iraqis are pushing north along Highway 1 from Qayyarah air base, about 40 miles south of Mosul. In the east, the Kurdish fighters, known as peshmerga, have captured a string of villages around Hamdaniya, which is also known as Bakhdida and Qaraqosh.
More than 100 U.S. special operations personnel are advising Iraqi and Kurdish commanders near the front Smoke rises from Islamic State positions after a coalition airstrike Tuesday in Mosul, Iraq. lines, providing advice and helping to direct airstrikes.
“It’s an ugly fight, but we have seen very good progress,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters in Washington.
Davis said Kurdish and Iraqi forces, which long have squabbled over territory and oil profits, are cooperating in the assault, which began Monday. The Kurdish fighters have captured Kurdishdominated towns but have agreed to allow Iraqi security forces to ultimately take the lead into Mosul, a largely Sunni Muslim city with about 1 million people.
The Iraqi battle plan aims to overwhelm the estimated 3,000 to 5,000 Islamic State fighters in Mosul, making them defend a 12-squaremile city at various points from much larger ground forces supported by U.S. air power and artillery.
The Iraqis plan to leave an escape path west from Mosul for civilians fleeing the city and Islamic State fighters eager to desert the fight. Few people have left the city so far, officials said.
Iraqi and coalition aircraft have dropped leaflets telling civilians to stay in their homes in Mosul both for safety and in hopes of pre- venting a massive outflow of refugees. The outnumbered militants are not expected to defend every neighborhood as the Iraqis advance.
Coalition warplanes carried out four airstrikes Monday near Mosul against Islamic State buildings, vehicles and bomb-making facilities. Two other airstrikes hit targets near Qayyarah, an Iraqi air base that U.S. forces are using as a logistics hub to push weapons and supplies to the front lines.
Clashes continued late Tuesday near Gwer in the village of Kani Harami, where Ali’s troops have been fighting.