By Henry Steck, International News Writer
On Monday, October 17, Iraqi forces launched a long awaited offensive on to oust the Islamic State, or Daesh, from Mosul, its last stronghold in the country. Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, has been under the brutal control of the terrorist group for the past two years.
The Islamic State began operations in Iraq in December 2013. After seizing Fallujah and Ramadi in January 2014 from Iraqi security forces, the group turned its attention to the northern part of the country.
In June 2014, Daesh shocked the world by launching a massive offensive which swept into northern Iraq with impressive speed.
Although an estimated 1,500 strong Daesh force attacked Mosul, in fear, much of the 30,000 strong Iraqi force defending the city fled. By mid-June of 2014, the city was firmly under the control of the Islamic state.
Currently, Iraqi and tribal militia forces are advancing on Mosul from the south and south-east. Iraqi forces have the support of U.S. special operations forces, who are assisting with maneuvers and direct artillery and airstrikes.
According to Reuters, there are approximately 5,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq, 100 of which who are currently dedicated to helping to retake Mosul.
The offensive is currently operating ahead of schedule, meeting only scattered Daesh resistance.
According to CNN, quick coalition victories have led to high morale among coalition troops.
However, many security analysts have warned that the fighting will become much more difficult once inside the city of Mosul itself. Islamic State fighters will have to be cleared house by house.
Iraqi brigadier general, Sirwan Barzanitold, stated to CNN that he hopes advancing forces will be at Mosul itself in two weeks’ time.
Iraqi forces number around 45,000, while the estimated number of Daesh fighters in the city is around 6,000. However, due to oil fires lit by the terrorist group, estimating Daesh strength and surveying troop movements in the area has been difficult.
In recent fighting, Iraqi forces retook the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, located just 16 miles from Mosul.
They discovered an elaborate network of tunnels built by the Islamic State under the city, equipped with food and other living amenities. Beyond tunnels, the Islamic State has also been using high amounts of suicide car-bombs, and according to Kurdish media, small home-made drones.
Along the Mosul-Erbil road to the east of the city, the Kurdish Peshmerga started an assault last week also aimed at liberating Mosul. “The objectives are to clear a number of nearby villages and secure control of strategic areas to further restrict ISIL’s movements,” said the command of the Kurdish Peshmerga in a statement to Reuters announcing the launch of Thursday’s operations.
According to the Guardian, Iraqi forces will join Kurdish forces in advancing from the east, after the initial Peshmerga assault.
According to RT, Russia’s general staff is concerned about the reallocation of Daesh forces from Mosul to Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his concerns to RT, reaffirming that Mosul isn’t fully encircled by coalition forces, and therefore warning that the “corridor (formed) poses a risk that Islamic State fighters could flee from Mosul and go to Syria.”
Russia is particularly concerned about the delicate situations surrounding the strategic cities of Palmyra and Deir ez-Zour in Syria’s south. Palmyra was retaken from Daesh forces in March of 2016. Deir ez-Zour remains under siege, surrounded by Islamic State on all sides. Supplies had to be airdropped in. The situation is both areas remains delicate, a balance that could be tipped by the sudden arrival of Islamic State reinforcements from Mosul.
The situation in Mosul has also generated significant concern from a humanitarian standpoint, with 1.5 million residents estimated to be stuck inside the city. The UN stated that Mosul could become the largest humanitarian operation in the world.
The International Committee of the Red Cross stated that up to 1 million people may be displaced by the battle.
According to the Guardian, coalition forces have already dropped tens of thousands of leaflets into the city, urging residents to stay calm and to be wary of rumors proliferated by Daesh in the city.
“We have been battling ISIS for more than two years,” said Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi. “We started fighting ISIS in the outskirts of Baghdad, and thank God we are now fighting them in the outskirts of Mosul, and God willing the decisive battle will be soon.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, October 25th print edition.
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