According to comments from a U.S. Central Command official to CNN, a major ground offensive to dislodge ISIS from Mosul could be coming in April, and American ground forces could be part of it.
This ground force would supposedly be small, assisting the Iraqi army in a primarily advisory role. At present, the Pentagon is evaluating the strength of the Islamic State’s defenses to determine if American troops will need to accompany the Iraqis into battle.
Much depends on whether the ISIS offensive into Iraq has truly stalled out, due to logistical problems, casualties, and a slowdown in the number of foreign fighters imported by the Islamic state as reinforcements. Most encouragingly, the official quoted by CNN claimed ISIS members were “protecting their families by sending them out of Mosul,” suggesting that they know an offensive is coming and doubt their ability to hold the crucial Iraqi city. It was also considered a promising development that ISIS gave up on pouring resources into a battle for the Kurdish city of Kobani, which suffered through months of see-saw battles.
The air campaign around Mosul is focused on cutting off its ISIS occupiers from supplies and reinforcements. Kurdish peshmerga units recently seized three important bridgeheads on the west bank of the Tigris River to the north of the city, which should help isolate the ISIS units inside Mosul when the big Iraqi push to recapture the city begins.
The Islamic State has been characteristically horrible in its treatment of the conquered city. Over the past couple weeks, they have been on a rampage against religious sites they find disagreeable, using construction equipment to level buildings after looting them of relics and books. At least one mosque that did not measure up to ISIS standards was destroyed.
As Fox News explains, one of the things that sets off the ISIS terrorists is the presence of mausoleums on mosque grounds, which they consider “heresy” because the “Faithful” might end up offering prayers to the dead, instead of directing all prayers to Allah. Although, the Islamic State has been certified 100 percent Islam-free by the Obama administration.
ISIS has also set about conscripting the youth of Mosul into its army, ordering families with more than one son to surrender one of their boys for military service to fulfill their “sacred obligation to defend Islam against the infidels,” as one resident told NBC News. NBC also relayed claims from the vice president of Iraq that a network of underground resistance fighters in Mosul has been conducting attacks against ISIS.
It will be necessary to soften up Mosul as much as possible for the invasion because, as the Washington Post observes, Iraqi military units have relatively little experience at brutal house-to-house urban combat, and it would be politically difficult for the Iraqi government to send either Kurdish forces or Iran-backed Shiite militia units into the city. U.S. air support would have to be more precisely targeted in an urban battleground, which is why some number of American boots will almost certainly be on the ground when the battle for Mosul begins.