By Mike Furlong:
OpsLens.com previously reported that the Iraqi Military Coalition’s (IMC) initial assault from October through December 2016 was a slow and bloody slog. ISIS was inflicting heavy casualties on the IMC’s assaulting forces (the United Nations (UN) and multiple media reports estimated as many as 2,000 IMC casualties) while only managing a few blocks of IMC penetration into eastern Mosul.
For background reading regarding this article, I suggest OpsLens.com’s “The Iraqi Army’s Coalition Operation to Reclaim Mosul: A Slow and Bloody Slog” (December 28, 2016) and “The Reclaiming of Mosul: 2016 Operational Update” (January 6, 2017).
This initial phase of combat was characterized by ISIS’s deadly asymmetric warfare tactics and savage and illegal use of innocent Mosul civilians as “human shields” in contravention with the Geneva Convention Protocols protecting civilians during war.
After the IMC’s initial two months of fighting in Mosul and its limited success in reclaiming control of the area, Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi ordered an operational pause for his IMC forces. PM Abadi immediately traveled to the Mosul front lines to meet with the IMC generals and assess their lack of anticipated progress. Although not officially connected with PM Abadi’s meeting with IMC generals, then-US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made an unannounced visit to the Mosul front lines during this same period.
Obviously, the content of these meetings was classified; however, as OpsLens.com has previously researched and reported:
“The IMC counterterrorism units (CTS) shouldn’t have started attacking ISIS fighters in the east until the other IMC axes of attack had begun their complementary assaults,” said David M. Witty, a retired US Army Special Forces colonel and former adviser to the Iraqi counterterrorism force. “It was a mistake. ISIS was able to mass and focus all its fighters on just one axis of attack by the IMC’s CTS. These are specially trained soldiers that can’t easily be replaced.”
According to KUNA [Kuwait News Agency], PM Abadi’s war plan review meeting on December 13, 2016 was to reinforce Iraq’s elite Golden Brigade (now Golden Division) special operations forces with special police forces to better isolate ISIS snipers and suicide car-bombers, close ISIS’ network of tunnels under Mosul, and make better use of Apache helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. PM Abadi emphasized the need to keep civilian casualties and infrastructure damage to a minimum.
Since the IMC began its more aggressive phase-two assault on Mosul on December 29, 2016, IMC’s CTS have penetrated through the southeastern quadrant of Mosul to the eastern bank of the Tigris River. During the last few days (January 14–17, 2017), IMC forces led by the CTS have enlarged their initial foothold along the Tigris River’s eastern bank.
IMC now controls the access point to three of Mosul’s five impassable bridges that formerly connected western Mosul with eastern Mosul. They are moving to expand their complete control of eastern Mosul and the two access points to the remaining two collapsed bridges.
On January 15, 2017, The Washington Post reported on the recent successes of the IMC in overrunning ISIS in eastern Mosul. An excerpt follows:
Dozens of the black-clad soldiers waded across a small river that separated them from Islamic State positions. Night vision goggles cast the terrain in front of them in a greenglow. On the other side, they fought house to house, helping the engineering teams make space for the main attack force. The Humvees then rolled through.
The surprise nighttime attack in the Muthanna neighborhood last week is among the adjustments Iraqi forces are making to jump-start their fight to take the northern city of Mosul. It was the first night operation in their fight against the Islamic State.
Also, during the past few days, IMC forces attacking on second axis from the northeast quadrant of Mosul were successful in bombarding, assaulting, and re-capturing Mosul University—the ISIS operational stronghold for defending the eastern side of the city.
“The fighting was heaviest in the final buildings we took,” said Sargent Dafour of the Iraqi CTS’ Nasiriya division to a Reuters reporter.
Since the operation has restarted, the US-led coalition has “significantly intensified” what are known as “terrain denial strikes,” said Col. John Dorrian, a US coalition spokesperson. Such strikes leave craters in roads that slow down or stop ISIS’ capability to launch large-scale “martyrdom counter-attacks” with suicide car bombs against IMC forces.
The imminent collapse of ISIS in eastern Mosul has been accompanied by significant progress with strategic and operational successes against ISIS’ supreme headquarters in Raqqa, Syria. Elite US special operations forces (SOF) are interdicting ISIS supplies coming from Raqqa and killing or capturing key ISIS functionaries.
According to U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis, US SOF conducted another successful night raid on January 8, 2017, killing key ISIS functionaries near Deir al-Zour, Syria.
The IMC forces and their “US advisors and assisters” must be applauded for their recent battlefield successes achieved since the operational restart on December 29, 2016.
It is probable that the IMC will consolidate control of the eastern portion of Mosul before launching an assault into the west bank—a bona fide ISIS strong-point with hundreds of thousands of Mosul civilians trapped inside.
Be assured that the IMC final attack into western Mosul will be the toughest and bloodiest battle in the two-year war against ISIS. IMC must plan this attack very carefully to avoid high casualties—both for IMC forces and the trapped Mosul civilians.
I have two accompanying articles to humbly suggest some considerations for this upcoming battle. Both articles are part of a continuing series of articles regarding ISIS and IMC tactics.
Michael Furlong is a Senior OpsLens Contributor. Furlong is a career Army Infantry Officer, Battalion Task Force Commander, Combat Veteran, and retired Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service.
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