National Security

The Iraqi Military’s Coalition to Re-Claim Western Mosul: Pre-Attack Update

By Mike Furlong:

It appears that the Iraqi Military Coalition’s (IMC) massive operation to reclaim Mosul, Iraq, from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will attack into western Mosul very soon. IMC forces defeated ISIS in eastern Mosul on January 24, 2017.

As you are probably aware, the IMC began this multi-phased operation on October 17, 2016, by clearing scores of villages and towns in the outlying approaches to Mosul. IMC forces were successful in encircling the trapped ISIS radical Islamic terrorist fighters and consolidating the IMC’s gains up to the eastern Mosul city limits. The early fighting was a slow and bloody slog.

By early December 2016, the attack stalled after penetrating only a few blocks into eastern Mosul’s actual city limits. The IMC’s main attack unit, the elite Golden Division (special operations forces), suffered about 2,000 killed in action while killing about 2,500 of ISIS’ terrorist fighters (from multiple media reports).

Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider Abadi, stopped the IMC’s attack and directed his generals to meet him on December 13, 2016 in the recaptured town of Hammam al-Alil (10 miles south of Mosul). PM Abadi wanted to review the war plan and tactics and make necessary adjustments. Then-US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made an unannounced trip to the Mosul front lines on December 11, 2016, to meet with his US commander and probably PM Abadi.

US Special Operations forces are advising and assisting IMC forces, to include forward fighting forces assaulting ISIS in Mosul. The 6,000 US troops in Iraq are providing training, equipment, intelligence gathering, logistics support, medical support, and fire support from air and ground platforms (artillery).

The Kuwait News Agency reported a summary of PM Abadi’s war plan review meeting on December 13, 2016. PM Abadi’s guidance to his field commanders was “to reinforce Iraq’s elite Golden Brigade 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.

The IMC’s attack into eastern Mosul restarted on December 29, 2016. By January 24, 2016, IMC forces had defeated ISIS in eastern Mosul.

For more background, I suggest that you read’s articles chronicling the bloody fight for Mosul:

  1. The Mosul Fight:  An Update Chronicling the IMC’s Success in Taking Eastern Mosul
  2. The Iraqi Military’s Coalition to Reclaim Mosul (Part 2): An Assessment of ISIS’ Tactics and Key Vulnerabilities

  3. The Iraqi Military’s Coalition to Reclaim Mosul (Part 3): Additional Considerations Before Attacking Western Mosul

I read multiple news sources every day (especially Iraq Musings, Radaw, and an undisclosed information gathering network). Most importantly, I rely upon many of my personal sources (accumulated and sustained during my time operating inside Iraq) that cover the battle for the IMC to reclaim Mosul from ISIS.

Since the IMC secured eastern Mosul (January 24, 2017), it has been conducting humanitarian assistance for the liberated eastern Mosul civilians, successful counter-attacks against ISIS infiltrations in eastern Mosul, reconnaissance of ISIS positions in western Mosul, counter-sniper and counter-mortar fires against ISIS into western Mosul, and preparatory and harassing fires into western Mosul.

It has also performed preparations for bridge crossings into western Mosul, repositioning IMC forces for the ultimate attack on western Mosul, mine clearing and booby-trap clearing of IEDs left by ISIS, investigations into captured ISIS bomb-making factories and chemical weapons research labs at Mosul University (formerly ISIS’ headquarters in eastern Mosul); investigations of ISIS’ atrocities and crimes against humanity, and rearming and refitting IMC forces for the final attack on western Mosul.

Since ISIS was defeated in eastern Mosul two weeks ago, ISIS has been fortifying its defensive positions—concentrating on their positions along the Tigris River. The Tigris River bisects Mosul and has five bridges (currently impassable from battle damage) connecting eastern and western Mosul.

Also, ISIS is conducting reconnaissance and mini-bombing actions against IMC with their commercial fleet of unmanned aerial drones, small harassing attacks with small stay-behind cells in eastern Mosul, harassing sniper and mortar fires into eastern Mosul, mine-laying and booby-trap-laying activities throughout western Mosul, preparing suicide car-bombs for use against the IMC’s attacking forces into western Mosul, rousting of western Mosul civilians from their homes to act as human shields around ISIS’ defensive positions, murder of western Mosul civilians caught fleeing, and destroying water and electric connections to Mosul civilians.

Kurdistan’s Rudaw News Network reported (January 7, 2017) on ISIS’ new tactic of using commercially obtained unmanned aerial drones adapted with grenade-size bomblets to attack IMC forces: “The Iraqi soldiers have to be aware of what rains down from the sky as ISIS is attacking from above, as well as from the ground, Rudaw’s correspondent Nabard Hussein reported, noting that during the hour he and his crew were reporting with the Iraqi forces, at least 10 grenades were dropped by ISIS drones.” This ISIS tactic with armed aerial drones continues and will probably be “surged” during IMC’s final attack on Mosul.

See my previous article regarding IMC attack considerations:  Iraqi Military’s Coalition to Reclaim Mosul (Part 3):  Additional Considerations Before Attacking Western Mosul.

There is now a resistance movement inside of western Mosul. They have cell phones and radios. Also, there is now a radio station broadcasting into the entire Mosul area (I talk to the owner often; therefore, for security concerns, the name and location will not be disclosed in this piece). The radio station is receiving incoming phone calls from the resistance movement. This brave resistance, if caught, will be beheaded by ISIS.

This resistance effort can be “developed” quickly before the final attack. Actionable intelligence on ISIS can be turned into “insightful and exacting” operational moves by IMC forces during the upcoming final attack on ISIS in western Mosul. Moreover, this information is valuable for managing the inevitable flow of displaced civilians from western Mosul.

I must continue to emphasize the critical importance of the IMC’s plans for the handover of security, follow-on governance, and immediate humanitarian aid for Mosul and its suffering civilians. The various sectarian agendas are already public and in play. The Shiite paramilitary groups helping IMC operations are openly pursuing a sectarian agenda in the Sunni majority city of Mosul.

Additionally, a mid-level ISIS commander inside western Mosul is calling for staging an internal revolt against ISIS leadership. “These are ISIS members who revolted against the group [ISIS]. This indicates that the [ISIS] terrorist group started to lose the support given by its members,” spokesperson of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service, Sabah al-Numani, told Reuters on February 6, 2017. Let us hope that this indicator of low morale within ISIS will expedite their collapse in the fight for western Mosul.

Finally, I hope that President Trump’s national security team has considered a “temporary surge support” package for the US forces’ contribution to the IMC—Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve—before the final attack into western Mosul.

For our US forces “advising, assisting (and supporting)” the IMC, be safe and always “watch your six!”

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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