IS counterattack shows battle still far from won
Surprise offensive reverses days of territorial gains by Iraqi forces
MOSUL, IRAQ» Despite clinging to only a sliver of territory in Mosul, Islamic State militants managed to launch a counterattack Friday that reversed days of Iraqi army territorial gains in just a matter of hours — a setback that underscores the fragility of the Iraqi security forces despite years of U.S.-led coalition training as well as the instability likely to follow the city’s liberation.
The offensive began just after noon, when 50 to 100 IS fighters began firing on units of the Iraqi army’s 16th Division charged with holding the northwest frontline in the Mosul’s Old City neighborhood. The attack broke through the army’s first line of defense and the rest of its lines soon crumbled.
The surprise attack illustrated the resilience of the extremists who, though controlling less than a half mile of territory, have maintained the ability to conduct both conventional military counterattacks and insurgent strikes.
Hassan, a 45-year-old soldier with the 16th Division, described the close-fought battle inside the rubble-strewn alleyways of the Old City.
“Daesh started to attack us from everywhere. We were so close to them that we even fought with hand grenades,” he said, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym.
“We have lots of martyrs and wounded soldiers, but we can’t evacuate them. It was epic,” Hassan said, giving only his first name in line with military regulations.
The initial wave of Iraqi army casualties began arriving within an hour at a field hospital a few hundred yards from the front, carried on stretchers by medics on foot through the Old City’s perilous terrain. At least five soldiers were killed.