Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Iraqi Army takes control of the last road out of Mosul.

An Iraqi special forces soldier fighting in Mosul. Reuters. 

The Iraqi Army has taken control of the last road out of Mosul, cutting off the remaining ISIS fighters in the city. Reuters. Elements from Iraq's 9th armored division have taken control the road near the Syria Gate, which serves as the Northwestern entrance for the city. The road was the last route out of Mosul and connected the city to the other main ISIS stronghold in Iraq, Tal-Afar. The capture of the highway is the largest defeat for ISIS since the group lost control of the northeastern side of Mosul. With the road cut, ISIS is now besieged in Mosul. 

My Comment:
This is a major problem for ISIS in Mosul. Though ISIS still has a few routes out of the city, none of them involve roads. They could, potentially, use the Tigris river as a means of escape. The problem with that is that pretty much every boat in Mosul has been destroyed in US air raids against them. With those boats destroyed they have no real way to navigate the Tigris river, or even cross it. Some could try swimming it but that seems like a fools errand. 

Iraq doesn't control all of the countryside though. There are a few areas to the north and west of the city where the Iraqis don't have full control. Most of these areas are unoccupied desert. Theoretically, ISIS could use the desert as an evacuation route, but I just don't see it happening. If they went on foot they might not make it and any vehicle they use would stick out like a sore thumb to any coalition drones or fighter jets patrolling the area. 

As it stands right now, ISIS needs a miracle or a disaster to save their ambitions in Iraq. Theoretically, ISIS fighters from outside the city could relieve the trapped ones in Mosul, or the fighters there could launch a breakout, but neither outcome looks likely. Or the Mosul damn could collapse upstream and render the whole battle moot as ISIS and Iraqi fighters alike would be swept away in the deluge. All of these things are theoretically possible, but I don't think any of them are all that likely in the end. 

Baring something like that happening, ISIS is pretty much screwed. They have very little chance of breaking out of the city and the forces around them outnumber them quite severely. They are also outgunned due to US and Iraqi air support. Most of their heavy weapons have been destroyed and they lost a lot of equipment and fighters across the river in the first phase of the battle. Morale most likely has taken a severe hit as there has been very little good news for ISIS in the past few months. They haven't even had a major successful terror attack in Europe or America to lift their spirits, thankfully. 

The next stage of the battle will be siege warfare. ISIS is on the defensive and will probably fight to the last man. In the Libyan city of Sirte, ISIS was cut off in a similar way as Mosul. It took months to fully liberate the city as ISIS fighters fought in house to house battles against Libyan fighters. It was a bloody mess and it's important to note that there is a major difference in scale. At it's height, Sirte only housed 80,000 people. Mosul had a population of almost 2 million before ISIS arrived. Half of the city has been liberated already, but still the comparison holds.

The siege of southwestern Mosul is going to be a brutal battle. And ISIS is developing new tactics to fight. One of the most dramatic is the use of commercial drones as an makeshift air force. These drones are tiny enough that anti-air is fairly useless against it, but can be used to drop grenades or other explosives. Though I doubt these drone attacks are all that effective, they do have a psychological impact on the Iraqi soldiers. They are used to air superiority and not coming under air attacks.

ISIS still has access to one of their most effective terror weapons. They have been using suicide bombings as a major weapon in the battle of Mosul and even have fighters striking in places thought to be liberated from ISIS. I don't see that changing anytime soon, though I will say that ISIS is probably running out of the best vehicles for conducting these attacks, such as Humvee's and heavy trucks.

If ISIS has any chance at all, it is the morale of the Iraqi Army and their allies. Remember, none of this would have happened in the first place if the Iraqi Army had held in Mosul in the first place. They greatly outnumbered the ISIS fighters attacking the city, but the Army broke and run. The Army has essentially been rebuilt from scratch since then, but it is still a possibility that they could break again. Especially since the Iraqi Army has been pushed so hard in the past year or so.

This seems very unlikely though. The Iraqi Army has something they didn't have back in 2014 when the city fell. Back then they did not get the full support of the US military. This time they have air support as well as help from US forces on the ground. That should give them the backbone they need to win back the city.

At the beginning of the year I said that Mosul would likely be liberated this year, but not before Fall. I still think that will hold. I do think that it is pretty unlikely that the city will be liberated before September. This will be brutal house to house fighting and I doubt the battle will be over anytime soon. The outcome doesn't seem to be in doubt though... 

No comments:

Post a Comment