In what appears to be a preliminary bombardment of ISIS defenses in Mosul, coalition airstrikes hit seven targets in Iraq’s second largest city on 19-20 March. Mosul University, a declared ISIS stronghold was hit during these attacks. It has been reported over 100 ISIS fighters were killed in the strike. Coalition aircraft struck a car bomb workshop and an ISIS intelligence office. For months, the Iraqi government has made it clear they were assembling forces to strike the city and liberate it from ISIS control. After liberating Ramadi in recent months, Iraq has begun staging forces near the city for the expected offensive. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have been striking ISIS targets throughout northern Iraq, cutting off the key supply route from Syria after retaking the city of Sinjar.
While the US has yet to openly commit to providing troops to the offensive, the recent attacks on Firebase Bell in Makhmur (south of Mosul) indicate American troops are poised to support the Mosul attack. During the attack, Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin was killed. Eight other Marines were wounded, with three of them, medevac’d to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Sgt. Cardin is the second American to be killed in Iraq in the intervention against ISIS.
The recent terror attacks in Brussels on 22 March left 31 civilians dead, and another 300 injured. The terror attacks were the deadliest in Belgium’s history. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The bombings follow other ISIS attacks in France in 2015. Three of the attackers died when they detonated their bombs (two attacks on Brussels Airport and a third on Maalbeek Metro Station) while the fourth remains at large. On 18 March, Salah Abdeslam, one of the masterminds behind the November Paris attack was captured in the Brussels’ suburb of Molenbeek. Abdeslam was wounded in a gun battle with Belgian authorities.
While ISIS has been able to strike soft targets in Europe, they are experiencing overwhelming failure in the Middle East. The high water mark for ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria peaked in 2014. Since then, Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian forces have turned the tide and continue to erode ISIS’s territorial gains. Desperate to remain relevant, ISIS has looked abroad to strike fear. It seems they are inclined to use terror in sowing discord among societies with a Muslim-minority. The divisiveness among these societies after a terror attack may encourage Muslims to join ISIS (or support the organization). As defeat grows ever looming for ISIS, it is expected more attacks (or attempted attacks) will occur in the future, testing the security apparatus of nations around the globe.