The Iraqi army has launched its first phase in the effort to retake Mosul from ISIS. The long touted offensive has run into serious trouble. Iraqi forces have only been able to capture three villages on the outskirts of Mosul in three weeks of fighting, and it appears their offensive has stalled. The need to hold key territory to keep ISIS counterattacks at bay, has led Iraqi commanders to request more troops to assist in the offensive. Iraqi Shi’ite militias have offered to assist in the offensive, although politically it is feared such a move will encourage sectarian violence against the Sunni populace in the city once it was been retaken.
While the Iraqi’s are fearful of Shi’ite assistance in the offensive, they have been very supportive of the US Marines providing artillery support in the campaign. Marines stationed at Firebase Bell, located 55 miles south, have been providing daily artillery support since the offensive began. Conventional artillery cannot reach Mosul, so once the Iraqis begin to breach ISIS defenses in the city, the Marines will have to move closer to the front to continue their fire support. This shift north may result in more American troops being deployed to support the offensive, as well as protecting American assets near the front line.
On 14 March, the Kremlin announced Russian forces would begin to withdraw from Syria. As the Assad regime has begun retaking key territory from ISIS and the ceasefire between government and rebel forces appears to be holding, Putin has pressed for a smaller footprint in the region. While fighter and bomber aircraft have largely returned home, Russia has increased the number of attack helicopters in country. The attack helicopters are better suited for supporting Syrian ground troops than fighter or bomber aircraft because they can remain in the vicinity of combat longer.
The carpet bombing campaign was effective against the Syrian rebels. It helped drive opposition forces to pursue a ceasefire, but in the fight against ISIS, a more precise application of fire power is needed to overwhelm defenses. The combined offensives against ISIS in Syria and Iraq are slowly eroding the terror organizations strength in the region. With their eventual loss in Syria and Iraq, expect ISIS to shift their base of operations into other volatile regions, such as the Sinai, Yemen, and Libya (where the group already has a significant foothold).