Battle for Mosul illustrates the challenges of fighting the Islamic State mosul, iraq » As the fight for the Iraqi city of Mosul drags on, many might ask: Why has it taken the combined militaries of the United States and Iraq— backed by an international
Donald Trump raised the question during his campaign, promising to turn up the heat against the Islamic State if he became president. Now the growing controversy over the high number of civilian casualties believed caused by recent U. S. airstrikes has touched on a major part of the answer: The militants are mingled among tens of thousands of civilians in Mosul and are willing to take the population down with them.
Inevitably, the more force brought to bear to crush the fighters, the greater the danger civilians will be killed.
To avoid that, strikes must be more surgical and more cautious, and the battle turns to street- by- street fighting where the technological edge often is neutralized. Minimizing civilian deaths is more than just a humanitarian concern: Heavy bloodshed can fuel public resentment that pushes some to join militant groups.
Another factor is whether the extremists have support fromat least part of the population. It’s even further complicated if they can claim to be fighting for national liberation — as, for example, with the Hamas group in its battles with Israel in Gaza. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State clearly holds the population hostage in many cases, but it also seeks to sway some support by claiming to defend Sunnis against a mostly Shiite force from Baghdad.
After a March 17 explosion that residents say killed at least 100 people in Mosul, the U. S. military acknowledged an airstrike was involved. But the top commander of U. S. forces in Iraq said investigations may reveal amore complicated explanation, including the possibility that militants rigged the building with explosives after forcing civilians inside.
Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Town send said recent civilian casualties in Mosul were “fairly predictable” given the densely populated urban neighborhoods the Islamic State fighters are defending against Iraqi troops.
Over the past 2 ½ years, Iraqi forces backed by U. S. special forces and coalition airstrikes have managed to push the Islamic State out of most of the territory they overran in the summer of 2014— retaking three major cities and numerous smaller communities. The fight for Mosul, launched in mid- October, has been the longest battle yet.
With each fight, the Islamic State has adapted its use of civilians as human shields, creating increasingly deadly battlefields.
In Tikrit and Sinjar, the Islamic State let the population flee early on, allowing Iraqi and coalition forces to use airstrikes liberally and artillery to retake the areas by autumn 2015.
The Islamic State then tightened its grip on other cities and towns. It locked down Ramadi with checkpoints to prevent civilians from fleeing. Only those with serious health conditions were allowed out— and only if they left behind a relative, property or thousands of dollars to guarantee their return.
After Iraqi forces punched into Ramadi, fleeing Islamic State fighters forced civilians to go with them to thwart airstrikes. Moving west along the Euphrates River, Iraq’s military responded to the use of human shields by largely empting towns of their populations as they retook territory. The massive displacement resulted in humanitarian crises. Thousands were left without shelter and little food or water in desert camps.
So the government changed tactics. It asked civilians to stay in their homes, a decision that was controversial with commanders faced with clearing militants from dense residential areas.
In Mosul, an estimated 1 million people were in the city when Iraqi forces breached its eastern edge. Islamic State fighters fired from the rooftops of homes where civilians sheltered, targeting those who fled with mortars and gunfire. In denser neighborhoods, even precision munitions inflicted heavy casualties. In western Mosul, Islamic State fighters forced civilians into explosivesrigged homes then took up positions on the roofs, Iraqi and coalition officials said.
Asimilar battle looms in the Islamic State group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.
Federal policemen fire toward the positions of Islamic State terrorists in the old city during fighting on the western side of Mosul, Iraq, on Thursday. Felipe Dana, The Associated Press