Fox News reports that “members of the broad coalition poised to retake the key city” of Mosul have admitted the long-awaited decisive battle against the Islamic State has stalled because Iraqi forces broke and ran from battle again.
“The Iraqi Army commenced an assault on ISIS strongholds around Mosul, but when ISIS fired back, the Iraqi Army ran away and the assaults ended, so now they are regrouping and rethinking their next options,” an Iraq-based Western security and defense specialist told Fox News.
This is a dramatically more scathing assessment than the official line from Iraqi and U.S. military commanders, who variously claim that “Operation Conquest” was called off because the Iraqi Army was having trouble holding on to the surrounding area; because they discovered an unexpected network of ISIS tunnels; or because Iraqi troops from outside the Mosul region need more time to learn the terrain.
However, the Fox source was backed up by Yakhi Hamza, director of a volunteer aid organization working with the Kurdish government in northern Iraq, who said the Iraqis “retook some territory, but fled shortly [afterward], during the nighttime. There hasn’t been progress so far.”
Hamza went on to describe the failed Mosul operation as a coup for the Islamic State, which “uses these defeats for more propaganda and morale boost of their fighters.”
The official stories about minor operational delays and the need for reinforcements do not seem to be flying with anyone in the region, as Hamza insisted “nobody is optimistic about the ability of the otherwise well-equipped and trained Iraqi Army to retake the city.” In fact, he worried that if the Kurds and U.S. forces pitch in to dislodge the Islamic State from Mosul, ISIS forces might roll over the ineffectual Iraqis and hit Baghdad.
Major General Gary Volesky of the 101st Airborne Division gave a far more upbeat assessment to the Army Times on Thursday, saying that U.S. forces are “very focused on training the units that are going to… isolate and shape and clear Mosul.”
“We’re making progress, but the closer we get to Mosul, the harder it’s going to be. The enemy’s going to fight much, much harder the closer we get,” added Volesky, who is on his fifth tour in Iraq. He went on to describe the enemy as severely “disrupted” after the city of Ramadi was recaptured, and said ISIS is “losing ground,” as well as its ability to launch “huge attacks.”
The Wall Street Journal’s account charges that the early victories reported in the first few days of the operation were basically public-relations set-ups. A Kurdish Peshmerga general and several locals said the first couple of liberated villages had already been largely cleared of ISIS forces by Sunni militia a month beforehand.
Also, a regional tribal leader charged that the beginning of Operation Conquest was rushed, because it was feared the Islamic State was about to launch the kind of aggressive strikes Major General Volesky said they were no longer capable of. The commander of Iraq’s much more effective counter-terrorism special forces seemed to agree with that assessment, complaining the trigger was pulled on Mosul while his troops were still busy in Anbar province.
Furthermore, the WSJ reports the Iraqi Army appears to have been caught unprepared for the influx of refugees from ISIS territory, with thousands of civilians racing across the battlefront as Iraqi forces bombed or occupied their villages.
“The Iraqi army had no plan for us, and we’re 2,000 people,” mused one refugee. “What will they do with Mosul? That’s two million.”
Positive spin from Iraqi and U.S. officials is difficult square with sources telling Fox News that another attempt at retaking Mosul will “more than likely be many months away, and possibly not even this year.”
That is very bad news, because President Obama’s diffident strategy has already given ISIS plenty of time to dig in, and now they will have even more: “planting more IEDs and booby traps and continuing to manufacture chemical weapons at the labs of Mosul University,” as Fox puts it.