The Great Mosque in Mosul is famous for its leaning minaret, but unfortunately it will be now be remembered for a much darker reason. The mosque became a focal point when ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the establishment of the self-proclaimed caliphate in its hall. To combat this global threat, a coalition of forces was launched in the Levant to take back Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. As the offensive continues into 2017, ISIS is on the defensive. Taking back ISIS’ base of operations in Iraq and their second largest held territory will strike a crucial blow to the terror organization and move us forward in their eradication.
Why Mosul? Mosul fell to the extremist group ISIS early on in their campaign to establish a caliphate. Mosul was relatively easy for them to take because of the inability of the Iraqi military to quell violence and uprisings across the region. Mosul was easily “converted” or taken into ISIS control due to the large Sunni population originally being upset with the perceived mistreatment and distrust of the Shia Iraqi government.
Who is involved in the offensive on Mosul? Well for ISIS it is estimated by that there are about 9,000 fighters in Mosul that are loyal. It is unknown how well trained these ISIS soldiers are, but it is not out of the realm of possibility to say many may be teenagers and untrained Iraqis swept up by the extremist group. Regardless, they are heavily outnumbered. An Iraqi-led coalition made up of :
54,000 Iraqi security forces (ISF)
16,000 Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)
40,000 Pershmerga Forces (The Kurds)
Regional forces are supplying the majority of the hard power. This is important because to have legitimacy in retaking some of the ISIS held lands, a foreign power such as the United States would not be welcomed. It is important to have the arab neighbors be the ones to liberate the poor peoples who are under hostage by a jihadist death-cult. An international coalition has also thankfully been launched, only from the sideline. Led by the United States, an international coalition is supplying primarily logistics and intelligence services to the forces on the ground. But the French and United States have also sent small troop detachments, heavily artillery, and air support to supplement their allies.
The coalition has made significant gains since the launch of operation “We Are Coming, Nineveh” Small skirmishes in the surrounding villages has led to hundreds of people being lifted from their chains, but once the government entered the actual city progress slowed. This is because ISIS forces has made navigating the city extremely dangerous. Booby traps, sniper fire, land mines, and suicide bombing is the go-to method of fighting for ISIS. Being able to sacrifice very little in terms of troops while doing very real physical and psychological damage to coalition forces is easily achievable and heavily favored. Not to mention that as coalition forces advance, they are moving through civilian populated areas. There are an estimated 1.5 million civilians still living in the city. These are people who have been caught up in the savagery and despair of life under ISIS for quite some time. ISIS does not care about these people, and treats them as disposable. Using them as human shields to prevent heavy artillery and air support has been effective in slowing the progress of Iraqi forces.
On January 24, despite these challenges, the Iraqi Prime Minister announced that east Mosul had been officially liberated. This is no doubt a huge step in the victory direction for Iraqi and coalition forces. Iraqi troops have since regrouped, and have launched an offensive to retake the rest of the city in February.
This offensive is parallel to operations launched on Sirte (Libya) and Raqqa (Syria) in an effort to take back large ISIS held territories. Keeping the terror group on the defensive is important because it also damages their appeal and recruiting efforts. It is of extreme ideological importance that ISIS has their caliphate to separate themselves from other jihadist groups such as al Qaeda. They put such importance on rejecting the boundaries and borders in the Middle East, that having territory at all in some way legitimizes (in their view) the cause. While slow, progress is being made. The United States should stay committed to retaking not only Mosul, but other key ISIS strongholds. The quicker the physical “caliphate” can be retaken, the quicker we can cast the deplorable ISIS to the bowels of history.
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