Warning that such a military operation will be by nature “very complicated,” U.S. Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State Brett McGurk assured reporters on Saturday that the plan to retake Mosul from ISIS is “already underway.”
“The operation to liberate Mosul, isolating Mosul, is already underway,” McGurk said in a press conference on Saturday, during a two-day visit to Iraq in which he met with “senior Iraqi government and security officials” to discuss the next steps in isolating and destroying the terrorist organization. McGurk noted that the Iraqi army has already begun moving troops closer to Mosul, but warned that, while preparations have begun for the battle to take Iraq’s second-largest city from the Islamic State, the fighting will be “complicated.”
“It will be a mix of forces and it will be very important to ensure it’s well planned: it’s well planned from a military perspective, it’s well planned from a humanitarian perspective and it’s well planned from a political perspective,” he added. He noted that, for the time being, the focus of American advising troops, the Iraqi army, and other participants in the struggle against the Islamic State is to put “pressure now from all simultaneous directions” on Islamic State resources. Daesh is losing; as they lose we focus increasingly on stabilization,” McGurk said.
On Twitter, McGurk called ISIS “trapped & desperate” on the outskirts of Mosul.
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) March 4, 2016
American officials announced over the weekend a series of airstrikes against Islamic State targets. On the borders of Mosul, officials announced seven airstrikes against “four ISIL tactical units… three ISIL vehicles, 12 ISIL assembly areas, and 25 ISIL bed-down locations.” In addition to American efforts, the Iraqi military has begun dropping leaflets into Mosul “which provided guidance to citizens and promised them for the coming end of the Daesh terrorists in Mosul,” according to the Iraqi Defense Ministry’s press office. Daesh is an Arabic-language acronym for the Islamic State.
American officials estimated that there are no more than 10,000 Islamic State jihadists in Mosul, according to Col. Christopher Garver, spokesman for the United States-led anti-Islamic State coalition. He warned, the Associated Press notes, that the weakness and division within ISIS does not indicate that coalition forces are ready to enter the city, however. “The forces that are going to conduct that assault into the city, they’re not in place yet,” he said. Up to 3,000 Iraqi troops are currently in place near Mosul to fight; authorities estimate that twelve times the number of troops will be needed to successfully execute the operation.
That organizing the troops necessary will take time was clear in McGurk’s choice not to answer any questions about a concrete timeline for the liberation of Mosul with a clear estimated date, opting instead to note that preparations were underway and ongoing. He included the liberation of northern Sinjar city, a heavily Yazidi area freed by Kurdish fighters in November, as part of the operation to retake Mosul.
The Wall Street Journal warns that evidence indicates infighting between militia factions may be as significant a hurdle in retaking Mosul as gathering the soldiers to conduct the operation. Both Iran-backed Shiite militias and multiple Kurdish organizations – from Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to Syria’s People’s Democratic Party (PYD) to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist group – want to participate in eliminating ISIS in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi seeks to incorporate the Shiite militias into the fight for Mosul. The United States opposes their presence, as they have made clear that, should any Americans participate in fighting the Islamic State, they would abandon the fight against the terrorist group to kill Americans.
“There are preparations but there is no plan and no zero hour to start the operation or a plan for the post-liberation period,” Kurdish Peshmerga secretary general Jabbar Yawar said of plans to liberate Mosul. The KRG has insisted it has no interest in annexing Mosul into Kurdish territory, instead hoping to keep the Islamic State as far away from its borders as possible. The infighting has triggered disillusion. “Whomever thinks this battle will happen in 2016 is either a daredevil or believes he is Rambo,” Mashaan al-Jabouri, a Sunni politician whose son commands a Sunni militia, told the Wall Street Journal.
The Islamic State has held Mosul since July 2014, when they invaded the city and forced all non-Sunni Muslims to leave, convert to Islam, pay an infidel’s tax, or be killed. The group eliminated the city’s significant Christian population and has starved its citizens of connections to the outside world, including the imports the city needs to survive. Mismanagement has led to clear dissatisfaction, as indicated by a number of news report from inside Mosul. Last week, the news surfaced that ISIS had executed its own finance minister in the city, along with 24 others who had allegedly refused to fight in defense of the group. After more than a year, the group has lost a significant number of jihadis in the area, and reports from inside Mosul indicate that group has been forced to replace trained soldiers who had joined the jihad with children and non-professional killers, forced onto the battlefield after being drugged.