The U.S. military has denied reports suggesting that fighters from Iran’s terrorist proxy Kataib Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, are fighting alongside U.S.-backed Iraqi troops and their allies in the offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
American military officials, including a top commander of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, have acknowledged that Shiite militias, including some backed by Iran, are fighting as part of the Iraqi government-recognized umbrella network for militias, called Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), which also includes Sunni Arab tribesman.
However, when asked about reports that members of the Hezbollah Brigades are participating in the Mosul offensive, possibly dressed as Iraqi military officers, a U.S. defense official told Breitbart News, “We have no information on this.”
Asked whether the United States was “allowing” Shiite militias with bloody histories of murdering U.S. troops to participate in the Mosul operation, the official responded, “We are confident in our force protection measures.”
Earlier this week, the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported that Hezbollah and other Iran-backed Shiite militias with records of executing American troops were likely fighting in the Mosul offensive.
“Unnamed commanders from Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), two Iranian proxies with a record of sectarian violence, reported on October 13 that more than 2,000 of their fighters withdrew from Syria, mostly from Aleppo, to redeploy to Mosul as well as Hawija,” ISW noted.
The New Yorker, citing a former U.S. intelligence official and an Iraqi official, suggested that some Iran-backed Shiite militias had “donned Iraqi Army uniforms” to participate in the ongoing Mosul operation.
Nevertheless, the U.S. defense official told Breitbart News that Iraqi troops who are receiving U.S. military assistance through the central Iraqi government during the Mosul operation were vetted for links to terrorist organizations and associations to the government of Iran.
“Some Iraqi units have been restricted from receiving assistance because their commander didn’t passed vetting,” revealed the official, adding that “the results of that vetting are reported to congress on a quarterly basis,” as mandated by law.
Given that the quarterly reports are classified, the official was unable to divulge which Iraqi units were disqualified from receiving U.S. military assistance.
U.S. troops are serving as advisers on the ground and calling in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in support of the Iraqi troop and their allies, which include Kurdish Peshmerga troops and the PMU militias. The Pentagon has stressed that American troops are in harm’s way as they advance towards Mosul, particularly after the recent U.S. military fatality.
Army Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, commander of the U.S.-led coalition’s land component, and commander of the storied 101st Airborne Division, told Pentagon reporters earlier this week that the American troops fighting to liberate Mosul are only backing the Sunni component of the PMU, claiming that the Shiite PMU troops are not under the control of the Shiite-led Iraqi government.
The PMU is also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and al-Hashd al-Shabi.
“We don’t support them,” declared Gen. Volesky, adding, “The Shiite PMF are not going into Mosul.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has vowed that only regular members of the Iraqi forces will enter Sunni-dominated Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq and ISIS’ last remaining stronghold.
Nevertheless, leaders of Shiite militias – including AAH, which already threatened American forces in Iraq earlier this year and has been linked to deadly attack against the U.S. military – insist they will be part of the effort to liberate Mosul from ISIS.
The Institute for the Study of War noted that a couple of days before the Mosul offensive began on October 17, Iraqi PM Abadi met with high-ranking Shiite officials, “including Badr Organization leader Hadi al-Amiri, AAH leader Qais al-Khazali, Harakat al-Nujaba leader Akram al-Kaabi, and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSAS) leader Abu Alaa to discuss Mosul and Hawija operations.”
“A day later, images circulated of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) commander Qassem Suleimani visiting an undisclosed location with Amiri and senior Popular Mobilization commander and U.S.-designated terrorist Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis,” added ISW.
Regarding whether the United States is concerned that the Shiite militias will commit sectarian killings and other atrocities against Sunnis in and around Mosul, the American defense official, echoing Gen. Volesky, indicated that ultimately what happens in Mosul is in the hands of the government of Iraq (GOI), adding that Baghdad will “consult on Mosul governance” with the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
“Ultimately holding and governing Mosul will be an Iraqi responsibility,” added the official.
“We are working closely with the GOI to plan for security in Mosul after its liberation. The GOI understands the potential for ethno-sectarian tensions in Mosul and committed to working to mitigate those tensions,” continued the defense official.