After Iraqi Troops Free Civilians in Mosul, the Islamic State Shells Them
Losses are heavy
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
Iraqi troops have taken 23 neighborhoods in eastern Mosul and are approaching the Tigris river, which bisects the city in half. But the Islamic State still has most of the city under its control — including a majority of Mosul’s eastern neighborhoods.
While it’s likely the terror group will eventually lose Mosul — Iraq’s second largest — it is fighting a war of attrition to lengthen the battle, inflict pain on the Iraqi army and the civilian population for as long as possible. It could be well into 2017 before Mosul falls.
The Islamic State seems to want to delay its enemies — an uneasy coalition of Iraqi troops, Shia paramilitaries and Kurdish soldiers — heightening tension between them and complicating reconstruction efforts after the battle.
That’s the conclusion of a Nov. 30, 2016 report by journalist Tim Lister in CTC Sentinel, a monthly newsletter from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
Lister, who spent time in Iraq near Mosul in October and November, also details the Islamic State’s combat tactics inside the city — including the deliberate shelling of civilians in Iraqi Army-controlled neighborhoods.
Among these tactics:
(1) The Islamic State is skilled at targeting the Iraqi Army’s weaker support units, driving them away before turning attention toward the main targets. These are complex ambushes, indicating considerable planning in advance.
It’s what happened during one November battle in Mosul’s Aden neighborhood when a column from the Salahudin Regiment of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force lost its support unit and “came under sustained attack in narrow streets for more than 24 hours, losing all but three of its vehicles,” Lister writes.
“Islamic State fighters targeted the front and rear of the trapped convoy, firing RPGs from rooftops and sending suicide bombers on motorbikes and in cars.”
However, the Iraqis are making sporadic progress — releasing this video in late November showing jubilant civilians reacting to soldiers clearing the Green Apartments neighborhood.
أهالي شقق الخضراء في #الموصل يستقبلون قواتنا الباسلة بالأهازيج ودموع الفرح بعد تحريرهم من جراثيم داعش #MosulOp https://t.co/bz6jn2BEuO
(2) The Islamic State relies on covered trench and tunnel networks built with penal labor. Of course, the terror group has plenty of prisoners as it enforces draconian rules on behavior, and “minor infractions such as smoking or beards of insufficient length” are against the rules, Lister adds.
In lieu of whipping or prison, the group offers trench-digging duty as an alternative. This is how the group managed to build extensive networks of trenches within a relatively short period of time. The resupply networks extend from Mosul’s interior to the city’s outer reaches.
(3) In Mosul proper, the militants have trained dozens of teenage males as suicide bombers. These youths often ride the aforementioned motorbikes, and the Islamic State relies heavily on motorbikes generally to move around the city and down its trenches, dug wide enough to support them.
(4) Civilians are human shields. The Islamic State terrorizes civilians into staying put, restricting the Iraqi army and Western aircraft’s firepower. While the Iraqi Army has the means to devastate Mosul, including with TOS-1A thermobaric rocket launchers, it has been hesitant to use such weapons because of the heavy civilian presence.
Evacuating civilians is not much of an alternative, as Iraq’s refugee camps are overloaded, and the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga fear that Islamic State fighters could conceal themselves and escape.
And while the Islamic State relies on civilians as shields, it does not hesitate to attack civilians in Iraqi-controlled neighborhoods, shelling them with mortars — prepared in advance — and undermining the Iraqi army’ ability to protect those under its responsibility.
Lister also notes that Iraqi losses are officially undisclosed, but heavy — while Mosul isn’t close to being cleared.