IS coun­ter­at­tack shows bat­tle still far from won

Sur­prise of­fen­sive re­verses days of ter­ri­to­rial gains by Iraqi forces

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Su­san­nah Ge­orge

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.

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