Saturday, May 27, 2017

Iraqi forces have begun the final phase of the Battle of Mosul

An Iraqi soldier fires a mortar in Mosul. Reuters. 

Iraqi forces have begun the final phase of the Battle of Mosul. Reuters. The eight month long battle is nearing the end as ISIS only controls the Old City and three other districts in Mosul. A victory in Mosul would essentially end ISIS's hold in Iraq, with only a few other enclaves remaining, none of them anywhere near the importance of Mosul. The battle has taken longer than expected due to heavy civilian presence and ISIS's use of booby traps, suicide bombs and snipers. The civilians left in the city are in severe danger as ISIS is targeting them and they are running out of food and other supplies. 

My Comment:
There is no hope for the ISIS fighters trapped in Mosul. The front lines are very far away now from the isolated pockets of ISIS fighters in the Old City and surrounding districts. There is no hope for relief or anything other than death or unconditional surrender. The Pentagon's new plan makes it very clear that ISIS fighters are not to be allowed to escape or given safe passage. There is no route for escape, short of trying to escape into the countryside, and that would involve sneaking through enemy lines. Even the river has been cut off, due to the destruction of boats. The vast majority of ISIS fighters still trapped in Mosul will die there. 

The question is how long it is going to take. On the one hand there are many factors that could slow down the battle. First and foremost are the tactics that ISIS has used for years now. They will use vehicle borne IED's as terror weapons and booby trap houses and other buildings to slow down the advance. Snipers will also slow down the advance. ISIS has proven that these tactics work, at least in the short term. 

Secondly, the huge number of civilians still trapped behind enemy lines will slow down the advance as well. There is strong evidence that ISIS is using those civilians as human shields and will exploit any deaths as a propaganda tool. I've often criticized US and allied forces as being too concerned about civilian casualties, but short of slaughtering everyone, you have to take some consideration to saving their lives. That means that heavy weapons and airstrikes will have to be curtailed. 

On the other hand, there is at least one factor that could speed the battle up. That huge mass of civilians needs to be fed, clothed and otherwise supplied. Those supplies and food will run out quickly and though I am sure ISIS fighters are given priority, they have to be running out as well. With the Reuters report saying that people are resorting to eating wild plants and bird food, I am guessing that even the ISIS fighters will start to feel the pangs of hunger very soon. Without food, ISIS will begin to starve to the point where they can't fight effectively. 

The whole situation will likely be a humanitarian disaster in a war that has already had too many. No matter what happens with the Battle of Mosul, a lot of people are going to die. I think that a quicker, fast paced, battle will likely reduce the casualties long term, but who knows if that is even possible at this point? I have to wonder though, if starvation is going to be allowed to happen. There is the possibility of dropping food, but that would feed the ISIS fighters as well, and could potentially lengthen the battle. It's a tough choice and it's one I am glad that I don't have to make. 

I worry about exhaustion among the Iraqi fighters in Mosul. They have been at it for eight months and before that they faced several brutal battles, such as Ramadi and Fallujah. They have to be close to reaching the breaking point, especially since all of these battles have relied heavily on special forces. The Iraqi Army itself has already been exhausted and are mostly being used in a blocking role while the actual fighting is being done by special forces and militia. I don't think the problem is so bad that they could actually lose the battle, but I do think it could make it last longer than it should.

Sooner or later though, ISIS will lose the battle of Mosul. My original prediction was for fall or winter of this year and so far we are still on track for that. I think it is possible that the city could fall earlier though, but we have to remember that summer in Iraq usually slows the pace of battle due to extreme temperatures. This is one prediction I wouldn't be upset if I was wrong about though. 

What happens after ISIS is defeated in Mosul? Well, the war in Iraq won't be over by any means. Iraq still controls quite a bit of territory in Iraq. Most of that is desert, but there are a few towns left, most notably Tal-Afar west of Mosul. Even after those towns are taken, the threat of ISIS will remain as long as they control territory across the border in Syria. ISIS can use Syria as a launchpad for further attacks into Iraq even after they lose Mosul and the rest of the towns there. 

Once Iraq is fully liberated and the border with Syria is more secure, there will still be a threat. I am thinking that instead of taking and holding territory the war in Iraq will continue as an insurgency, much like the post invasion to pre-surge period was. ISIS will shift focus from being a state to being a terror group instead. And there is always the fear that ISIS will raise from the ashes, much like their predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq did to form them and al-Nusra....

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