Following months of preparation, Iraqi security forces launched their attack against ISIS forces in Mosul on 16 October 2016. The city fell to ISIS militants back in the summer of 2014. The Iraqis have deployed between 54,000 to 60,000 troops to the region for the attack, as well as 14,000 militiamen belonging to the People’s Mobilization Units—who are predominately Shiite. Supporting the Iraqi forces in the fight for Mosul are Kurdish Peshmerga and US personnel and aircraft. In the lead up to the final push on Mosul, American airstrikes and Peshmerga fighters cut off vital lines of communication for ISIS forces in Mosul.
Within a week of commencing operations against ISIS in the region, Iraqi and Kurdish forces had liberated a significant number of outlying town and villages near Mosul, as well as killing/capturing hundreds of ISIS fighters. On 29 October, the Iraqi and coalition forces began to penetrate the eastern side of the city (Mosul is divided by the Tigris River, and a number of bridges connect the two sides of the city). On 7 November, a town south of Mosul, Hamam al-Alil was liberated by Iraqi forces, providing a clear path to Mosul International Airport (where the former US forward operating base Marez and Diamondback were once located). Upon liberating Hamam al-Alil, coalition forces discovered the remains of 42 civilians who had been executed by ISIS forces. Seizing Mosul International Airport and the surrounding area will provide the Iraqis and their coalition partners with an important logistical hub.
The operation to liberate Mosul has also presented a humanitarian crisis, as nearly 1.5 million Iraqi civilians live in the city. While many have fled the city (both before and after the fighting commenced) those that remain will be caught in the middle of fierce urban combat. ISIS has declared any civilians caught trying to escape the city will be executed, resulting in the Iraqi government requesting the civilians to stay put. The United States has stated that ISIS is attempting to use the civilians as human shields.
The fight for Mosul is far from over, and it may take months before the city is fully liberated. As Iraq’s second largest city, it is tightly packed and exposes the inherent difficulty in conducting urban combat operations. With numerous neighborhoods and districts, as well as thousands of buildings, Iraqi and coalition forces will have to carefully clear these areas. One tactic that was used previously during Operation Iraqi Freedom (most notably in Baqubah during Operation Arrowhead Ripper) is rigging homes and buildings with explosives. These house-borne IEDs (HBIEDs) are designed to wipe out entire squads/platoons when being cleared. Should this tactic be used on a wide scale in Mosul, it will drastically increase clearing operations for the Iraqis.
Editor’s Note: I served in Mosul from July 2006 until November 2006 with Task Force Regulars (5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment).