Mosul Offensive Ahead of Schedule

Armed forces closing in on Mosul said on Tuesday they had secured some 20 villages on the outskirts of the city in the first 24 hours of an operation
Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack IS terrorists in Mosul, Iraq, on Oct. 17.Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack IS terrorists in Mosul, Iraq, on Oct. 17.

Iraqi security forces are ahead of schedule on day one of offensive to retake Mosul from the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group, the Pentagon said.

Iraqi forces and Kurdish peshmerga, backed by US air and ground support,  launched the offensive early Monday.

“Early indications are that Iraqi forces have met their objectives so far and that they are ahead of schedule for this first day,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said, also warning that it was unknown how long the battle would last, Deutsche Welle reported.

Armed forces closing in on Mosul said on Tuesday they had secured some 20 villages on the outskirts of the city in the first 24 hours of an operation to retake what is the last major stronghold of IS in Iraq.

“The Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters have started the operation to retake Mosul from IS,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced early Monday on state television.

“The time of victory has come and operations to liberate Mosul have started,” he said in an address broadcast by the Al Iraqiya channel. “Today I declare the start of these victorious operations to free you from the violence and terrorism of Daesh,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the terror group.

Retaking the city would be a major blow to IS, which overran much of the country after seizing Mosul in June 2014 from a fleeing Iraqi Army, capturing tanks, weapons, ammunition and money to fuel its subsequent growth.

The long-awaited offensive to recapture Iraq’s second-biggest city follows months of preparations after security forces largely pushed the extremist group from central Iraq over the past year.

In Washington on Monday, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter called the launch of the operation “a decisive moment in the campaign” to defeat IS.

The coordinated offensive involves sometimes rival forces, including Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga to the north and east of the city, with the Iraqi Army, Sunni tribal units and Shia militia moving in from the south.

To retake Mosul, the combined forces will have to push through 20-30 kilometers of IS-held territory before reaching the outskirts of the city, where several thousand IS fighters have had two years to build defenses. Local media reported territorial gains in villages around the city early on Monday afternoon.

Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of the US-led coalition against IS, said in a statement that the operation to regain control of Mosul could take “weeks, possibly longer”.

“Iraq is supported by a wide range of coalition capabilities, including air support, artillery, intelligence, advisers and forward air controllers. But, to be clear, the thousands of ground combat forces who will liberate Mosul are all Iraqis,” he said.

Once Iraqi security forces reach the city, the country’s elite counterterrorism units are likely to spearhead the urban battle as they did in Tikrit and Fallujah. Several thousand IS fighters are holed up in the city and likely to use snipers, suicide bombers, bomb-laden vehicles and booby traps to slow the Iraqi advance.

But the operation has also raised concern over an impending humanitarian crisis in a city where a million people still live.

Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said in a statement that “depending on the intensity and scope of the fighting, as many as 1 million people may be forced to flee their homes in a worst-case scenario”.

He warned that civilians could be caught in the crossfire and may be used as human shields to protect IS fighters from US-led coalition airstrikes. Already overburdened aid organizations have warned that they are unprepared to handle large-scale humanitarian upheaval.

Even when Mosul is liberated, overcoming the various political rivalries and interests in Nineveh Province is likely to unleash a power struggle. While the various armed groups cobbled together for the Mosul operation have a joint interest in fighting IS, the question remains over what they will have in common once the city falls.

It is unclear what kind of post-IS political agreement has been reached to govern the largely Sunni Arab city, traditionally one of the most restive and anti-government since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds said they had struck a political deal with the central government ahead of the assault under which peshmerga forces and their allies would advance from north, east and southeast, but would not enter the mostly Sunni Arab city, where their presence would be opposed.

Details of a deal have not been published, but it has been reported that similar to the peshmerga’s arrangement, the Shia militia forces will also not enter Mosul.

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