Iraqi spe­cial forces join bat­tle for Mo­sul

U.S. sol­dier dies in fight­ing

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - The As­so­ci­ated Press

In a sig­nif­i­cant es­ca­la­tion of the bat­tle for Mo­sul, elite Iraqi spe­cial forces joined the fight Thurs­day, un­leash­ing a pre-dawn as­sault on an Is­lamic State-held town east of the be­sieged city, and the U.S. mil­i­tary an­nounced the first Amer­i­can com­bat death since the op­er­a­tion be­gan.

U.S. of­fi­cials said the Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­ber died Thurs­day from wounds sus­tained in a road­side bomb ex­plo­sion north of Mo­sul. More than 100 U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces are em­bed­ded with Iraqi units in the of­fen­sive, and hun­dreds more are play­ing a sup­port role in stag­ing bases.

The Amer­i­can had been op­er­at­ing as an ex­plo­sive ord­nance dis­posal spe­cial­ist in sup­port of the Iraqi Kur­dish force known as the pesh­merga, the U.S. of­fi­cials said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to pub­licly dis­cuss de­tails.

Road­side bombs and other im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices pose a par­tic­u­lar dan­ger to ad­vanc­ing Iraqi forces and the U.S. ad­vis­ers who are with them. The Is­lamic State group, which has oc­cu­pied Mo­sul for more than two years, has pre­pared ex­ten­sive de­fenses in and around the city.

As they charged to­ward the town of Bartella, nine miles from Mo­sul’s out­skirts, the Iraqi spe­cial forces faced an­other fa­vored weapon in the IS arse­nal: ar­mored trucks packed with ex­plo­sives and driven by sui­cide bombers. The mil­i­tants’ sig­na­ture bat­tle­field tac­tic, the weapons of­fered a glimpse at what Iraqi forces can ex­pect as they close in on the ex­trem­ists’ big­gest ur­ban bas­tion.

The pre-dawn as­sault on Bartella was part of a mul­ti­pronged op­er­a­tion on eastern ap­proaches to Mo­sul, Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city. At­tack he­li­copters strafed mil­i­tant po­si­tions as they ad­vanced amid a hail of gun­fire.

The U.S.-trained spe­cial forces, of­fi­cially known as the Counter Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice, are widely seen as Iraq’s most pro­fes­sional and least sec­tar­ian fight­ers, and have served as the shock troops in pre­vi­ous cam­paigns against IS. They are ex­pected to lead the charge into Mo­sul.

IS mil­i­tants un­leashed at least nine sui­cide car and truck bombs against the ad­vanc­ing troops, eight of which were de­stroyed be­fore reach­ing their tar­gets, while the ninth struck an ar­mored Humvee, Lt. Col Mun­tad­har al-Shim­mari told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

He did not give a ca­su­alty fig­ure, but an­other of­fi­cer said five Iraqi sol­diers were wounded. The of­fi­cer spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to re­lease in­for­ma­tion. “Af­ter we break them in Bartella, ev­ery­where else, they will crum­ble,” said Maj. Gen. Fad­hil Bar­wari. He said IS had few de­fenses in the town, which was al­most com­pletely empty of civil­ians. “They just left some snipers and sui­cide car bombs,” he said.

Mean­while, Iraqi Kur­dish forces an­nounced a si­mul­ta­ne­ous at­tack, with pesh­merga fight­ers de­ployed on moun­tains north­east of Mo­sul de­scend­ing from their po­si­tions and charg­ing to­ward the front line.

Un­der cover of mor­tar and gun­fire, the Kur­dish troops used bull­doz­ers and other heavy equip­ment to fill trenches dug by the mil­i­tants as part of their de­fense of the IS-held vil­lage of Barima, then ad­vanced with their ar­mored ve­hi­cles to­ward the ex­trem­ists’ po­si­tions.

Mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions also ap­peared to be un­der­way in the town of Bashiqa, north­east of Mo­sul, where thick smoke could be seen bil­low­ing up. A day ear­lier, Bashiqa was pounded by airstrikes and mor­tar fire from pesh­merga po­si­tions high above.

Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati told a news con­fer­ence late Thurs­day that the spe­cial forces had suc­ceeded in re­tak­ing Bartella. But Iraqi forces were still fac­ing stiff re­sis­tance in­side the town shortly be­fore he spoke, and past ad­vances against IS else­where in Iraq have of­ten proved fleet­ing.

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