The Battle for Mosul: IS’ swansong or yet another shapeshifting ? (part 1)

By Patrick BAHZAD


6a00d8341c72e153ef01b7c851603e970b-800wiThis is it then. The battle for Mosul, which had first been announced (a bit hastily) by Iraqi government officials in mid-2015, has finally begun. An improbable alliance of Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Sunni tribesmen and Shia militias, some of them supported and trained by Western advisers, is now besieging IS' Iraqi capital, with Coalition aircraft ruling the skies over Northern Iraq. Considering the various forces involved, there is not much doubt left over the outcome of the battle. The combined might of Western air forces and Special Ops, regular Iraqi units and various ethnic and sectarian militias will prevail against the armies of the Caliphate, at least what is left of them inside Mosul. Yet, the careful optimism displayed by many in the media could be proven wrong somehow, especially with regardsto the prospects for long term survival of the "Islamic State".

The high plains of Northern Iraq have probably not seen anything like it since the Mongol armies arrived in the region and pretty much smashed anything that got in their way in their late 13th century. Back then, they destroyed Mosul after its ruler sided with their ennemies, the Egyptian based Mamluks. Now, in late 2016, tens of thousands of troops have gathered again in Nineveh, mostly to the East and South of Mosul, and have begun closing in on the defenses IS' has had two years to build up, both around and inside the city.

The Symbolism of Mosul

The highest priority for those involved in retaking Mosul will be to avoid the scenario that the Jihadis are probably bracing themselves for: a protracted siege dragging on for weeks or months, involving heavy civilian casualties and featuring the kind of doomsday narrative that IS used to prophesize for its Dabiq outpost in Northern Syria, now lost to Turkish sponsored groups.

The highly symbolic nature of the coming fight cannot be overstated. What is at stake, is not just the future of Mosul, not even the destruction of the territorial and economic base of the Caliphate in Iraq. It is actually the future of the whole country that will probably be shaped along the lines of the events to come. Actually, there is no lack of symbolism when it comes to Mosul's recent past and its significance for its immediate future.

Mosul is the city where Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday ("Ace of Hearts") and Qusay ("Ace of Clubs") were taken out by members of TF20 and the 101st Airborne, on July 22nd 2003. They did not go easy though and it took a four hour gunfight –with an A-10 and an OH-58 involved – to level their safehouse to the ground. But instead of Mosul turning into the place of death for the heirs to the Baathist "monarchy" of Iraq, the city became the place of birth to the "Caliphate" of Abubakr al-Baghdadi, a somewhat bizarre, yet not totally unlikely successor to Saddam Hussein.

Proclaimed by IS' spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, on June 29th 2014, the "Caliphate" had Mosul as its first capital, after the city fell in IS' hands, in an operation that stunned the world and had everybody waking up to the dangers of the reborn Jihadi threat coming out of Iraq. Five days later, on July 4th, al-Baghdadi made his first public appearance at the balcony of the Great al-Nuri Mosque, calling onto all "believers" to rally to him and join him in his global Jihad.

Geopolitical Implications

Those years, between 2003 and 2014, have probably shaped Iraq's destiny for years to come still. In hindsight, in 20 years or so, the so-called "Caliphate" proclaimed by Adnani and incarnated by Baghdadi will probably look like just one more event in a sequence of highs and lows that is likely to carry on for an undetermined period of time. However, the battle that is about to begin has the potential to impact on these long term trends in various, opposing ways. This could be "the beginning of the beginning of the end" to a vicious circle of violence or, on the contrary, the last nail in the coffin of the Iraqi State.

The plains of Nineveh are a place where local and regional actors are heavily involved, which bears testimony to the geopolitical context in which the battle is taking place. Mosul is at the junction of several areas of influence. Beyond the Iraqi State (meaning the Abadi government), countries like Turkey and Iran also have a stake in this fight, and they are actively supporting their proxies in Mosul. As far as Ankara is concerned, neo-Ottoman dreams of past grandeur – when Mosul province was part of the empire – as well as concerns about Kurdish national ambitions, are the main drivers. Tehran, on the other hand, has been taking part in the grand game that is played in Iraq ever since the start of "Operation Iraqi Freedom". Regional powerplay, support for their Shia brethren in Iraq and the confrontation with the Saudi arch-enemy all play a role in Iran's plans. Finally, the Kurds of Iraq, as well as other minorities, also have an interest in seeing this battle through.

But as if that was not enough, the situation is further complicated by the other war that is being fought in the region, in neighbouring Syria, on the other side of a now almost non existant border. Whether or not Mosul will turn into Aleppo's Iraqi twin remains to be seen, in all likelihood it won't, but the implications of Mosul for the war in Syria are obvious. The outcome of the battle will translate into effects onto the players there, notably the Kurdish YPG or AQ's franchise in the Levant, formerly known as "Jabhat al-Nusra". But the wrangling for influence between the US and Russia will also be affected. Therefore, the various constellations that could emerge depending on the outcome of Mosul are hard to predict, even and in particular for the West.

Another refugee wave of even modest proportions could tip the balance in more than one EU-country, and so could Jihadi returnees staging attacks against Paris, Berlin or London. When we are dealing with Mosul, we are treading on very thin ice and one can only hope that the Powers that be are well aware of all the facets to the problem they set out to solve. Of course, driving out the "Islamic State" is the highest and most immediate priority. It is a legitimate one. The complexities of such an undertaking should not be underestimated however.

Forces involved

On paper, this looks like an uneven fight. The forces assembled at the gates of Mosul look quite formidable indeed. Various Iraqi government outfits – including the much vaunted "Golden Division" (a part of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service), Federal police and Military Intelligence, as well as regular army units – are positioned at different locations to the North, East and South of Mosul. Also moving in on the city are Sunni tribesmen ( "Hashd al-Asha'ri" and "Hashd al-Watani"), sponsored either by Baghdad or the Turks. Shia PMF militias are present en masse, with their sectarian flags on top of almost every vehicle, as are Kurdish Pershmerga and armed groups formed by smaller Northern minorities (Christians and Yazidis for example). Western Specials Ops roam the frontlines, and they are probably not just there in an advisory capacity. Last but not least, US and French artillery is ready to pound IS positions and Coalition aircraft is flying CAS missions and carrying out targeted strikes on the outskirts of Mosul.

Overall, there could be as many as 60 000 to 80 000 men encircling the city and its Jihadi garrison, estimated at roughly 5 000 to 7 500 fighters. This ratio of 10 to 1 in favour of the Coalition should leave no doubt as to the likely end result of the operation. However, there are various aspects that need to be factored into the equation, slightly changing its terms. The issue is not so much about whether or not Mosul will be freed from the head-choppers. It will. But what is unclear at this point is under what circumstances, how long it will take and what aftermath lies in waiting for the Iraqis, and quite frankly, for all of us.

Militarily, it is an open secret how the Coalition intends to proceed. Shaping operations are mostly over and the forces are now regrouping before the push into Mosul. In the South, Qayyarah with its strategic airbase and bridge over the Tigris is firmly at the hands of the Iraqi army and Federal police. This is a major disruption to the territorial continuity of the "Caliphate" in the area, as IS forces around the city of Hawija (South-East of Mosul) are now isolated. Much of the Tigris valley up to Qayyarah is also controlled by the Coalition, which means the logistical trail up to Qayyarah is pretty safe.

Probable COA ?

The North and East of Mosul has been secured by Kurdish Peshmerga units which are also moving into Nineveh plains, but they will not take part in the assault on the city. So far, the circumvallation has not been completed, as a corridor to Western Anbar has been left open. One possible explanation is that the Coalition wants to "offer" a potential exit to IS' fighters not willing to die inside the city. Once in the open, they would however become much easier targets for Coalition aircraft. Another reason might be the city of Tal Afar, which lies West of Mosul and could potentially erupt into sectarian violence if Shia PMF clash there with Turkish sponsored groups. The latest news is that PMF units have already begun moving towards Tal Afar, which could delay the entire timeline for the assault on Mosul.

However, the Tal Afar sideshow set aside, and with most of the surroundings South, East and North of Mosul already secured, the assault should begin quite soon, but this is also where the dynamics of the battle could change. Most likely, there will be a multipronged assault on the Eastern part of Mosul: the various axis of advance will probably coincide with the major LOCs leading into the city (Highway 2 in the North and East, highway 80 in the South-East and Highway 1 in the South).

The forces involved in the operation will then sweep through the city, trying to get as quickly as possibly to the centre and the Tigris river bridges, possibly with the help of Western Special Ops and local anti-IS fighters already inside the city. When the Tigris river bank will be reached, forces might possibly regroup before launching the second and last phase of the assault, i.e. liberating the Western parts of Mosul and mopping up IS "leftovers".

The Western corridor could possibly stay open for the entire duration of the operation, if the Coalition is in a position to prevent IS reinforcements from entering the city from that direction. If that is the case, this corridor might well turn into a "kill zone" once the less determined Jihadis chose to leave and our aircraft can pick their targets. But that is the theory. In practice, there many contingencies that need to be taken into account and the number of potential difficulties that will need to be overcome is quite staggering.

(to be continued)

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61 Responses to The Battle for Mosul: IS’ swansong or yet another shapeshifting ? (part 1)

  1. JohnH says:

    IMO much of this is electioneering–see? Obama is ‘doing something’ about ISIS!
    As for any results (or not), we will find out (or not) after the election…

  2. BraveNewWorld says:

    Thanks for that great post. I have to ask though, wouldn’t the main roads into Mosul be among the most heavily defended parts of Mosul? Once you actually get to the city there are a lot of alternate routes. Wouldn’t they look for some thing softer?

  3. b says:

    1. Pat will call this economic determinism and laugh about it. But hydrocarbons play a serious role in the “game”. Here is a good, very interesting look, supported with many maps, on the issue:
    Politics, Population, and Hydrocarbons: Preparing for Mosul’s Aftermath
    2. There is concern voiced by Syria and Russia and other people, that the U.S. intends to let ISIS flee to Raqqa and keep it under “control” there – i.e. to use it against Syria. Having seen that the U.S. led ISIS escape from Fallujah and only the Iraqi air force, without U.S. consent, came to destroy them, I have a lot of sympathy for that point of you.
    The Iraqi government has now send the PMF to take Tal Afar and to close one path of such an escape route. The groups include some 6,000 Sunnis and 3,000 Iraqi Turkmen originally for Tal Afar.
    But the area between Mosul and Syria is mostly desert and even if Tal Afar is under control there will be lots of escape routes still open. I doubt that the U.S. will put any significant effort to stop them It is just too convenient to have them in Syria. If only as excuse to further meddle there and to occupy its east.
    3. The fight in Mosul will be determined by the population. How many locals are part of or will support ISIS versus how many will fight on the side of the Iraqi government. We have too little reliable information to estimate that.
    4. The U.S. announced to soon take on Raqqa – bullshit. It has no troops to do that. The Kurds will not go as they need to defend against Turkey. The Russians will not let the Turks go that far south. The “Arabs” in south-east Syria are with the government or some with ISIS. They will not be enough or ready to take on a city.

  4. turcopolier says:

    Pat sees economic factors as among those things that influence the course of history. pl

  5. CENTCOM expects the battle to end no earlier than January 1st 2017. I’m pretty sure there will still be violence after that, regardless of the criteria applied to define “victory”.

  6. roads would be axis of advance, doesn’t mean they gonna stay on the roads once they encounter IS fighters… As for the most heavily defended areas, I doubt it will be on those roads.

  7. turcopolier says:

    Patrick Bahzad
    I am inclined to think that regain control of Mosul will take a lot longer than CENTCOM estimates. pl

  8. A. Pols says:

    Where are the “White Helmets” to run towards cameras with “wounded” children in their arms and who will call war crimes for atrocities against civilians, bombing schools and hospitals?

  9. PL,
    I’m inclined to think along the same lines … Mosul is a huge city: combing through it, even with the Iraqi flag flying from every government building, will take weeks ! And that’s after major fighting is over.

  10. Laguerre says:

    Akin Ünver’s article is very pro-Kurdish, and I wonder whether he is not Turkish Kurdish himself. He doesn’t say it, and being born in Ankara is no bar, not in that generation. All his work has been about the Kurdish question in Turkey.
    At any rate, the article you cite is all about how the Kurds are going to succeed, though I agree it has many interesting things to say.
    He exaggerates the importance of Mosul for the Kurds, and what they can do there. Amongst other things, the KRG can build a pipeline through Turkey without going through Mosul. It is not necessary for them.
    In fact the KRG have done little to develop the oil potential they so optimisticly announced a few years back (but Ünver omits). The reason is obvious: they’re bankrupt without the oil subsidies from Baghdad. To repeat the well-known, Baghdad stopped paying, because the KRG cheated on the oil agreement. But in any case, they can’t pay now because of the decline in the oil price, a problem which is affecting all the Gulf.
    Indeed it is an interesting question to ask how it is that the Peshmerga have been participating in the current offensive. They weren’t paid for months, even possibly years, and thus did nothing for a long time. A Kurdish source a couple of months ago claimed that the US had agreed to pay the Peshmerga for ten years. Even if ten years is unbelievable, I can’t see them fighting today unless there is some truth in the story.

  11. Laguerre says:

    One question that interested me was why the battle was launched now, just before election day, when the US might be seen to be bogged down in city battle on the day people go to the polls. At least it gives an opportunity to Trump. Was it thought that it would be all over by Nov. 8th? Of course, the winter weather in Mosul is not that great for operations.

  12. Laguerre says:

    Although I’m not a military man, my impression is that Da’ish is going to fight for Mosul, as the Colonel suggested was a likely choice a while back. PB’s figures make victory probable, but the fighting has been hard so far. They are not running away, as the propaganda is claiming.
    If it is the case that the majority of the Da’ish leadership is composed of Iraqi ex-Ba’athists (I don’t believe it, but who knows who they are), then they won’t want to be expelled from Iraq, and particularly Mosul. All this stuff about being offered Deir ez-Zor in exchange for Mosul is just speculation. The Iraqis, of whatever level in the Da’ish leadership, wouldn’t want to lose Mosul. An existential battle, perhaps.

  13. ISL says:

    Thanks PB for Part 1. Clearly ISIS mistake was they didnt play nice with an external patron to protect their interests – true believers, one supposes, unwilling to compromise, play real politick and acquire a protector. For a while there was Erdogan, but then they bit the hand.
    Clearly the time to move assets to Syria is past, so probably their best fighters have already left – and if they fled en masse, they will be goldfish in a bowl for US (or R+6 on the other side of the borde) air. So presumably the ISIS goal is reconfiguration as a guerrilla force and swearing to avenge the inevitable Mosul massacres.
    However, fish cannot swim in the sea if there is no water. And whether their is water or sand (metaphorically) depends on whether ISIS gets the blame for what happens or the Iraqi Shia govt. Do you think that the array of forces that is going to face hard fighting can avoid bombing MOSUL block by block into rubble? Certainly that would lower (loyal govt) losses while placing the cost on the Sunni, and be consistent with the recent past. And would ensure plenty of water for ISIS to rebrand itself and swim in.
    Second, there have been many cases of conflict spill over in the middle east, Pro-US spill-over to Syria being discussed. Assuming R+6 succeed (and that is I think the Russian flotilla will have that result by constraining NATO opportunities to continue their patronage to the unicorn army), do you see spill over back to Iraq, introducing another round of destabilization in a highly fractured and unstable country?
    Thanks, I await part 2!

  14. kodlu says:

    You bring up many good points. Also, what’s interesting to me vis a vis Kurdish politics is how we never hear of the PUK (Talabani’s outfit), have they joined up with Barzani’s KDP forces/party or are they in opposition (in addition to Goran)? PUK vs KDP has been an on again, off again conflict, sometimes armed and causing many fatalities.

  15. elaine says:

    I’m concerned about an ISIS attack on the Mosul dam. It’s difficult to obtain info
    on the topic other than an Italian team is repairing/maintaining it…are the
    Italians there with ISIS’ consent?
    Back in the early spring there was much media chatter about how an attack on the dam
    could result in killing over a million people & now there’s a near media black-out
    on the topic. Does anyone have any ideas on how to protect the dam or are all those plans classified? The prevailing attitude seems to be if we just don’t talk about it magically it will be ok. I almost feel guilty mentioning the topic. If there is no
    response from this committee on my concerns than I’ll conclude magical silence is
    magical science & I’ll try to never mention it again.

  16. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Patrick Bahzad:
    I think you are under-stating the political significance of the war for Mosul; victory there heralds victory in Syria – and, significantly – the failure of the containment strategy against Iran.
    All of this could have been avoided, in my opinion, in 2007, when US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran was leaked.

  17. Serge says:

    The dam was only shortly under ISIS control,for less than a week IIRC, until the start of US airstrikes in august 2014 resulted in them being pushed out from the area. Not in IS best interest to do anything to the dam, as those in the effected zone would all be ISIS territory

  18. Henshaw says:

    Apart from any strategic/logistical considerations, the battle for Mosul is probably starting now because it is unlikely to be bogged down before 8 November.
    While the battle is in its early stages, it will provide lots of uplifting footage of armored columns advancing, fresh troops, CAS etc- all the usual stuff, before the reality of urban warfare sets in and ‘unhelpful’ incidents become more frequent. Unhelpful incidents might include civilian casualties, heavy Coalition casualties, downed aircraft, friendly fire etc.
    Also, once the fighting enters built-up areas, it will be more difficult to avoid comparisons with the fighting in Aleppo. That’s a complication many in media and government would prefer to avoid as long as possible.

  19. Laguerre says:

    The dam is currently in the hands of the Peshmerga.
    In my view, the dam is not in danger. The issue was raised by the US embassy in Baghdad in order to get Da’ish to leave.
    The dam is based on weak foundations, it is true. However experts have confirmed my suggestion that the lake is actually full of alluvions, that is silt deposited by the Tigris, and not ready to blow.

  20. alba etie says:

    Is it possible that the military operations in Mosul against IS could help consolidate a more inclusive Abadi governance in Baghdad ?

  21. different clue says:

    I remember reading that quite a few of the ISIS strategic and tactical thinking-brain planner-dogs and guide-dogs for ISIS were bitter Baathists.
    I still wonder to what extent the Bitter Baathists try using ISIS as a containment dome while viewing themselves as the core. I think the Bitter Baathists will fade away at some point and leave the ISIS containment dome to fight on to the bitter end. To what extent is ISIS now an independent movement? Independent enough to prevent the Baathists from preferentially escaping? ( ” If we all die, you all die with us”).
    And once the city is taken over, what prevents the Shia Supremacist regime in Baghdad from re-oppressing the Sunni Arab tribes all over again and preparing them to re-welcome the Bitter Baathists yet again along with whatever new “screening movement” the Bitter Baathists travel under cover of?

  22. mike allen says:

    Patrick –
    Good insight, thanks for the post. I agree it is going to be weeks or maybe even months to mop up after the city has been taken. Peshmerga and Iraqi twitter accounts are relaying claims of underground IS villages with IED factories, food and ammo storage, and first aid stations. And like prairie dog cities with half a dozen entrance/exit holes for each individual burrow. One captured tunnel was described as three kilometers long, another as nine meters deep to withstand airstrikes. Hope the Iraqis and the coalition have a higher tech solution than the “tunnel rats” we used 48 years ago.
    Mosuk eye is reporting that the Tigris bridges are mined:
    It is going to be a long hard slog.

  23. trinlae says:

    Interesting comparison with the Mongolian Empire ventures. Contemporary empires would do well to learn from the Mongolian modus operandi, sieze all logistical assets but leave local governance and religious culture intact under local control.
    This would be a departure from the “you broke it, you own it” foreign policy cum business model of armed anarchy and chaos presently in vogue.

  24. trinlae says:

    ” Tehran, on the other hand, has been taking part in the grand game that is played in Iraq ever since the start of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. ”
    Iranian interests must also reflect historical Persian Empire engagements in a manner not to dissimilar to the Turkish shadow of Ottoman Empire. Persian trading posts must have operated there for thousands of years.
    Too bad people in far flung places pay the steep price for refusal of humanity to study world history!

  25. mike allen says:

    ooops! typo “Mosuk eye” should read “Mosul Eye”. The link should be correct.

  26. elaine says:

    That mosuleye blog is really interesting & intense. I noticed in the comment
    section someone posted a very anti-U.S. link. That was disconcerting.

  27. Pundita says:

    1.DEBKAFile runs hot and cold but my understanding is that their sources among the Kurdish commands are very good. Any case, this report is wall-to-wall bad news:
    “Pro-Iranian Shiites ready to lead Mosul operation
    DEBKAfile Exclusive Report
    October 29, 2016 – 12:23 PM (IDT)
    “DEBKAfile’s military sources note that coalition commanders erred by not taking Tal Afar in the early stage of the Mosul offensive and so blocking ISIS supply lines.
    “The offensive was hobbled two days day earlier by the Kurdish decision to withdraw Peshmerga fighters from the operation to retake Mosul. President Masoud Barzani of the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government stated Wednesday, Oct. 26, that his army had ended its role in the warfare, after cleansing dozens of mostly uninhabited villages on the road to Mosul, and did not intend to enter the city at this time.
    “This decision by the KRG in Irbil was not published.
    “Since the Kurds and the Shiite militias are out of it, who is left to finish the job and go into Mosul?
    “The mission which started out as a grand coalition enterprise has been left now to US forces and the Iraqi army.
    “However, Iraq’s elite 9th Golden Division and its federal anti-terror police unit have not made much headway in their advance against ISIS forces east of Mosul. Their commanders now warn the government in Baghdad that they can’t go any further without reinforcements.
    “But there are no Iraqi military reserves to draw on, without stripping any more main Iraqi towns of their defenses and laying them open to Islamists assaults, like those ISIS staged successfully last week on the oil city of Kirkuk, the Kurdish town of Sinjar and Rutba near the Jordanian border.
    “The long and short of it is that the Mosul offensive has virtually ground to a halt.
    Maybe the US can talk some of these people back into the coalition but if the DEBKAFile report is correct, this is a disaster.
    2. Get past CNN’s somewhat misleading headline (“Thousands of displaced people flood Mosul as ISIS loses ground”) to learn that as IS has fallen back from villages surrounding Mosul it’s been driving the villagers toward Mosul in what looks to analysts as a tactic to add tens of thousands more human shields to the ones already captive in the city.
    CNN reports these villagers are in poor condition, with no food. They’ve probably been starved as well by IS. So they’re in no condition to protest when IS herds them toward Mosul.
    CNN report filed by Sheena McKenzie and Tim Lister
    Updated 7:36 PM ET, Sat October 29, 2016
    A UN report tends to back up the CNN one. From the DEBKAFile report above:
    “The UN Human Rights agency reported Friday that, since the Mosul offensive began on Oct. 17, Islamic State forces in Iraq have abducted tens of thousands of men, women and children from areas around Mosul and are using them as “human shields” in the city as Iraqi government troops advance.”
    See also this Oct 29 datelined CNN report about the UN one.
    3. The DEBKAFile report also claims:
    “Following their raids on key Iraqi cities, the Islamist State is preparing to launch surface missiles against Baghdad. ISIS may not confine its missile attacks to targets in Iraq. Our military sources report that the jihadists have laid hands on Syrian and Iraqi ground-to-ground missiles with a range of 500km and are holding them ready for attacks on Iraq’s neighbors, which could be Jordan. Israel too is in their sights.”
    How much stock to put into the claim about the missiles — who knows, but the question would be how much Iraq/US commands are willing to take the claim into account.
    4. “Iraq: Hundreds of Foreign Female Terrorists Driving ISIL’s Suicide Vehicles
    October 29, 2016
    “TEHRAN (FNA)- The ISIL is using hundreds of female terrorists from different world countries to drive suicide vehicles of their husbands during the Mosul liberation operation by Iraq’s joint military forces, media reports said.
    “Most of ISIL’s foreign terrorists and their wives have enrolled for suicide attacks,” the Arabic-language media quoted a local force as saying.
    “He reiterated that a sum of 450 ISIL terrorists and their wives who are mostly French or from the former Soviet republics have registered their names to take part in the suicide missions.
    “The women have been ordered to drive the bomb-laden vehicles of their husbands to help them get closer to the Iraqi troops, while their husbands spray bullets at the Iraqi forces,” the source added.
    “Earlier on Saturday, Hashd al-Shaabi started its long-waited offensive against the ISIL West of the Northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
    “The operation aims to cut supplies between Mosul and Raqqah (in Syria) and tighten the siege (against the ISIL) in Mosul and liberate (the town of) Tal Afar,” Ahmad al-Assadi, a spokesman for the forces said.

  28. LG says:

    Raqqah became hot on the Turkish-American table when Abadi ordered PMU to take Talafar: Elijah J. Magnier

  29. Laguerre says:

    “so probably their best fighters have already left – and if they fled en masse,”
    Funny how no actual news of such massed flight has come out.

  30. Laguerre says:

    “Maybe the US can talk some of these people back into the coalition but if the DEBKAFile report is correct, this is a disaster.”
    I don’t think that either the Shi’a militia or the Peshmerga were ever expected to go into Mosul city. The Shi’a presence would be too provocative, and the Peshmerga have no interest in losing men to take a city they can’t keep. Whether Mosul can be taken by the Iraqi army alone (+ US airstrikes) is another question, and no doubt why Da’ish is not running away.

  31. LeaNder says:

    that the U.S. intends to let ISIS flee to Raqqa and keep it under “control” there
    I would have been very, very disappointed, b, if this would have been missing in your list.

  32. Origin says:

    As the jihadists rumble and quote the Koran, there is an interesting description of an earlier exposition on politics of Syria and Iraq in the obscure Old Testament book of Nahum. The region seems to be eternally cursed. Probably worth the read.

  33. BraveNewWorld says:

    The White Helmet are AQ this is Daesh. But point taken.

  34. mike allen says:

    EOD techs around Mosul seem to be dying at a fast pace. Why aren’t they destroying these IED’s in place instead of trying to disarm them? Detonating mines or booby traps used to be doctrine as I recall. But I guess they are suspicious of Daesh using chemical agents within an IED. or perhaps they have seen that in previous IED explosions.
    It is not just Navy Chief Jason Finan, but two peshmerga EOD techs as well in different incidents. Those pesh EOD teams only gear is old set of TL-13 pliers or a leatherman tool. They have none of the protective gear, and none of the high tech radiographic X-ray gear, ceramic tools, jammers, robots, etc that are SOP for modern day bomb squads and EOD units.
    There were also a British contractor killed two months ago doing EOD work in Ramadi, another was wounded:

  35. Pundita says:

    There are plenty of other questions as well. One is how many IS fighters are actually in Mosul. I’ve misplaced a report from about a week ago but it was to the effect that IS has been putting fighters into the city in very small numbers so as to avoid notice. How long they’ve been doing this, I don’t recall the report said, but surely they started when the US coalition announced its intention.
    Meanwhile, intel on what’s happening inside the city is very poor. Although it’s now instant death for a civilian to be caught with a cell phone, CNN reported a few days ago that some are calling to the outside world to report whatever they can observe. But but these calls are broken off at a second’s notice by bad connections or by caution.
    Meanwhile, a big player in this conflict is now the UN, which is watching like a hawk for civilian casualties and screaming bloody murder every time it sees any. Is this just out of the goodness of their hearts or are they carrying water for Al Saud and all Gulf governments that don’t want to see IS ejected from Mosul? Or are the Russians breathing down their neck.
    Anyhow, I could sit here the rest of the afternoon and list “meanwhiles.”
    Unless the US has rabbits up its sleeve, this plan to retake Mosul looks like amateur hour to me.

  36. Pundita says:

    It seemed a good idea to someone in the US command to attack Mosul and Raqqa simultaneously, but the brainstorm touched off an uproar that quickly descended into a muddle.
    An October 28 report from Voice of America, “Allies resist US plan to attack Raqqa,” has a good summary of the muddle, which finds Ankara squabbling with Washington about the use of Syrian Kurdish forces to take Raqqa, and European/British NATO members quailing at the thought of further offending Erdogan or sending non-Arab forces into Raqqa.
    Piled on top of waffling and squabbling is the problem that the Syrian Kurdish YPG is the only proxy ground force NATO has on hand that would stand a chance at routing Islamic State from Raqqa.
    From an October 29 FARS report, the Syrian Army has clearly decided to make hay from the muddle and move up their timetable for taking back the city. Good luck to them.

  37. Pundita says:

    Patrick Bahzad — Remembering my manners, thank you for this post, and looking forward to part 2. Putting together a picture of the Syrian War is like trying to see a pitch dark terrain only by the light of lightning flashes. Trying to see war events in Iraq is like peering into a thick fog. So yours is a hard but very necessary task, which I greatly appreciate.

  38. Pundita says:

    Your observations are news to me. Very troubling wrinkle if the bad guys have learned to pack chem into small IEDs/mines and do so in large number.
    I wonder if sniffer military dogs could be trained to smell the different chemicals. Also the incredible giant mine-sniffing rats, who’re even being taught to sniff out tuberculosis in a person.
    However, even if this idea is feasible it takes time to implement. And it takes a special kind of rat — one who is able and willing to focus for the training, which takes weeks. So I imagine there’s a waiting list for the graduates. And the people who train these rats, from what I know about their organization, might not want to put them into a hot war zone.
    As for war dogs — well, would it work? If so, again, training takes time.
    In any case, the Coalition has to solve this problem, if it is a problem at this stage. On the other hand, it looked to me, from the equipment I saw on the Afghan bomb sqaud reality show, that the detonation approach is very expensive. That would be one reason a lot of IEDs are still defused rather than detonated.
    See the short video at Military Times about Russian sappers clearing out hundreds of mines at Palmyra this April. They did do detonations, but many were defused. Why? Beyond expense, maybe there are technical reasons? Or maybe the Russian equip. just isn’t as good as US? These are wild guesses.

  39. different clue says:

    Thoughts of “what happens after” have kept bothering me. After going to all the trouble of re-conquering Mosul and perhaps the rest of Iraqi ISIStan, who would want ISIS 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 etc. to keep re-emerging and re-emerging and re-emerging again and again and again in Iraqi Arab Sunnistan?
    Well, Israel has been referrenced, and also KSA and all the Lesser Gulfies. But they can’t make the Shia Supremacist Regime in Baghdad re-oppress the Sunniraqi Arabs into calling forth another Jihadi Insurgency all over again. And neither can they prevent the Shiaraqis from doing it. Who could preVENT the Shiaraqis from re-oppressing the Sunniraqi Arabs all over again? The Government of Iran. If the Government of Iran wanted peace and order in Iraq, the G of I could beat the Baghdad Regime into submission on that point.
    So why doesn’t the IranGov force the Baghdad Regime to offer a New Deal to the Sunni Arabs of Iraq? Because the IranGov wants to keep Iraq disordered and too weak to become a rival Shia power center in the region. Because a perpetual Sunni Arab insurgency keeps the Iraqi Shia perpetually scared and helpless and dependent on Iranian protection and hence obedient to Iranian orders and compliant with Iranian desires. So Iran COvertly wants to preserve ISIS after ISIS after ISIS in al Anbar just as strongly as Israel Overtly wants to preserve this particular ISIS. And as long as the IranGov wants to maintain insurgency-breeding conditions in al Anbar to keep Iraq weak and dependent and obedient, those conditions will be maintained.

  40. Battle was launched now as result of different factors. Mosul is in Iraq first and foremost, let’s not forget.
    As far as the US election is concerned, I think it’s more about Obama admin wishing to create facts on the ground that will be binding for the next admin, regardless of who gets elected.
    In any case, it won’t have a bearing on the election results. The FBI investigations into HRC mails might have a much deeper impact.

  41. Coalition is going to prevail militarily, and IS is going to lose Mosul, but it’s gonna take a lot longer than many ppl think.
    Beides, some military defeats can be spun for propagandistic purposes and I’m sure IS will try and do that, showing how long they managed to resist the “overwhelming” forces that were fielded against them. Something along those lines.

  42. I don’t think there will be a massive move to Syria, because that is exactly where we’d want them to go, making easy targets over large patches of desert.
    Some may have moved/escaped already but remember, IS’ hearland has been Iraq, always. With all the talk about Syria and IS there, that is a fact that is forgotten too often.
    Many ppl in IS are Iraqis. So my guess is some of them will try and rebuild their organisation in other regions of Iraq, as they’ve announced themselves already (through Adnani) and they won’t give up and move towards Syria.
    Western Anbar and some areas of Diyala in particular could become/remain IS strongholds in Iraq.

  43. I don’t think the outcome of the battle for Mosul will determine the endresult of the war in Syria, but as I said, I think there will be important spill-over effects.
    The containment strategy against Iran has already failed btw …

  44. AE,
    Anything is possible.

  45. Pundita says:

    Just saw this, haven’t read yet:
    “A conversation with the general running the war against ISIS –
    Peter Bergen”
    By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst
    Updated 5:14 PM ET, Sun October 30, 2016

  46. Tigermoth says:

    Here is an RT article on the Palmyra mine clearing operation. The final stats are:
    “Earlier this week Russian engineers completed clearing of explosives the architectural and historical part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. With the help of Uran-6 robots and specially-trained dogs Russian engineers have cleared 234 hectares of land, 23km (14 miles) of roads and 10 architectural objects since April 2, the head of the Russian Army’s engineering unit, Yury Stavitsky, said on Thursday. In total, 2,991 explosive devices, including 432 makeshift bombs, have been defused. Ninety-eight Russian servicemen have been involved in the effort.”
    They didn’t lose anyone in the process. If IRC the full city could be detonated by cell phone so they used jamming to prevent it, and also the explosives were wired to the power points so they would detonate when the power was restored. They said some of the IEDs were problematic because they were “backyard” engineered so were not in the “standard” playbook.
    The linked article is about a discovery of a cache of over 12000 explosive devices that were the raw materials for the manufacture of IEDs. If Palmyra had 3000 IEDs when ISIS left can you imagine Mosul?

  47. Tigermoth says:

    And then on the other side you have Israel wanting more or less the same condition. What are are the chances of peace in the ME?

  48. mike allen says:

    Looks like Daesh tunnelers in Mosul have mini versions of Seattle’s Big Bertha tunneling machine.
    I cannot tell whether it is home-made or perhaps pilfered from Iraq’s fledgling mining industry. In any case, with one or two of those ‘mini-Berthas’ plus two years time, could they have turned the Mosul underground into a complex network of interconnecting tunnels and chambers a hundred kilometers long??? If so let us hope those warrens are full of the rabbit-hearted and not the venomous suicidal ones.

  49. Linda Lau says:

    Patrick – that you for your thoughtful analysis. What do you think about the larger Turkish role as Erdogan makes all sorts of provocative statements?

  50. different clue says:

    mike allen,
    If these tunnels are interconnected, would it be possible to fill the tunnel complex up with a fuel-air aerosol or fog mixture, and then ignite it?

  51. Pundita says:

    “and also the explosives were wired to the power points so they would detonate when the power was restored”
    i had forgotten that — blanked it out.

  52. Pundita says:

    digger machine news to me. According to CNN they gave men in Mosul who committed minor infractions a choice between physical punishment and digging tunnels. the diggers are taken to the sites blindfolded but it seems some peeked because these diggers have provided at least some intel on cave locations to coalition forces.

  53. mike allen says:

    Pundita –
    The tunnel boring machine that I linked to could have been a one-off. But it makes sense to use both pick-and-shovel men and mechanical moles. Especially so if you run into rock strata or other obstructions. I assume they are at least smart enough not to use blasting underneath an urban setting. But then I am neither a mining engineer nor a geologist and have no idea of the soil composition below Mosul.

  54. mike allen says:

    different clue –
    I have zero understanding on FAE effects. Sounds like an intriguing idea. What would happen to the city above? Perhaps someone here has ideas on the subject.

  55. different clue says:

    mike allen,
    My understanding of FAE effects is wiki-based, which is just one step above zero. I hadn’t thought about what the ground and overground effects might be.
    If the tunnels were fairly deep and had very few outlets to the surface, the effects would mostly race through the tunnels and some fire/heat and blast wave/ shock wave would erupt from the tunnel outlets into whatever above-ground building the tunnel outlet opened up into. (I should think it would be something like a coal dust explosion or a methane explosion in a coal mine.) If it was a safehouse full of ISIStas and Bitter Baathists all well and good, but if it was full of human-shield Musalwis (correct term?), that would be bad. Perhaps it would be considered worth it if there were vastly more ISIStanis in the tunnel than hostages around the outlet.
    Here are a couple of the websites from where I get my one-step-above-zero understanding of fuel-air explosion effects.

  56. mike allen says:

    thanx for the response –
    I spoke without thinking when I above asked: “could they have turned the Mosul underground into a complex network of interconnecting tunnels and chambers a hundred kilometers long???”. It was a question, and I suspect the answer would be that there is no single interconnected tunnel network. It is more likely that it would be several or many separate tunnel complexes.
    I recollect that in the VC tunnels of Vietnam smoke generators, tear gas, and flooding were tried. The smoke generators used fans to spread the smoke throughout the tunnel. Sometimes this worked successfully but mostly not. Usually a young Soldier or Marine, short and slightly built and armed typically with only a pistol, had to go in those tunnels to do the job.

  57. mike allen says:

    Tigermoth and Pundita –
    Looks like the Peshmerga is getting counter-IED and mine-clearing equipment from Germany. Hopefully it is high tech and as good as what the Russian engineers had in Palmyra.

  58. elaine says:

    A few days back there were over a dozen links from various publications saying the
    advancing troops had killed over 300 ISIS cubs, meaning child soldiers. Other than
    The Daily Mail I’m not familiar with these outlets & therefore unable to judge their
    Assuming these reports are valid it implies ISIS is posting disposable troops on the
    outer periphery of the battle & more seasoned troops closer in the city center.
    Tactically would it be better for advancing troops to continue the slow slog step by step cleaning out the obstacles or to just pound the city center with aerial bombardment &/or paratroopers & then try to fight backwards while also doing hit & run guerrilla attacks around the cleared outer edges of the battle? The slow slog is so predictable.
    Or should I just accept that as an armchair strategist I’m a failure who should
    lay off the keyboards?

  59. elaine says:

    Likely all 10 of geology faculty @ the University of Mosul have been co-opted.

  60. elaine says:

    It hurts my heart to think of all the human shields now in the city center
    but I don’t imagine they will survive under either tactic & time is of the essence as reports state people ordered to stay in their homes have little
    food or water.

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