Dozens of countries have committed personnel and resources to the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
While the US had assumed a leading role in the coalition, the British military has assisted the campaign on both the ground and in the air.
In the footage below, provided by the UK’s Ministry of Defence, British air force Tornados destroy seven armoured ISIS trucks at night on February 26 in northwest Iraq, and Brimstone missiles can be seen destroying two ISIS trucks moving across the desert.
The February 26 strikes were some of 10 conducted in the country that day.
Near Mosul, coalition aircraft targeted ISIS vehicles, positions, and weapons — including mortar systems, rocket-propelled grenades, and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, which the terrorist group has made extensive use during the close-quarters fighting in Mosul over the last five months.
The parts of Mosul east of the Tigris River were recaptured by Iraqi forces at the end of January (though ISIS fighters remain present there). Iraqi forces launched a major operation to recapture western Mosul on February 19.
They made swift progress against ISIS on the outskirts of western Mosul, quickly capturing high ground south of the city’s international airport and then the airport itself.
Iraqi forces then moved on the approaches to the southernmost of the five bridges spanning the Tigris.
While all of those bridges have been disabled by bombings, capturing one would put Iraqi forces closer to being able to ferry men and equipment from eastern Mosul across the river directly, rather than detouring south of the city in order to cross the river.
Maj. Gen. Thamir al-Hussaini called capturing the bridge a “strategically important” military gain that would shortens supply lines and could allow civilians trapped in western Mosul to flee.
In recent hours, Iraqi commanders say their forces have moved close to Mosul’s main government complex in the western half of the city — a largely symbolic victory.
Iraq forces northwest of Mosul also reportedly cut off the last main exit from the city on Wednesday.
“We effectively control the road, it is within our sight,” a general from the Iraqi army’s 9th armoured division told Reuters. Mosul residents reported not being able to travel on the highway that begins at the “Syria Gate” since Tuesday.
US Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top US commander in Iraq, said during a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday that, based on the best estimates, there were about 12,000 to 15,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, about half of them in Iraq.
He added that most senior leadership in Mosul had likely fled to areas along the Iraq-Syria border, where coalition forces and their partners could only observe and launch occasional strikes, rather than apply consistent pressure.
Among those fighters left in Mosul, Townsend said, were foreign fighters — “hard cases” — who are not expected to flee the fighting.
“The closer we get to the center, the more we come up against the foreigners,” Lt. Colonel Abdel Amir al-Mohammadawi, fighting on the ground in the city, told Reuters at the end of February, saying the expected to kill them all. “They don’t flee like the locals.”
Foreigners were only about 10% of the ISIS fighting force in the city, Townsend said. Another 10% or so were thought to be hardened fighters from local areas or the wider region. Among the remainder were people forced into the service of ISIS, usually under duress or threat.
Despite questions about morale among the terrorist group’s ranks, Townsend said not to expect a sudden collapse, as many would fight to the death.
More than a million civilians were in Mosul when Iraqi forces launched their campaign to retake the city, and some 750,000 were thought to remain in the western half of the city when operations against it began.
Many of those people have hunkered down in homes around western Mosul, rarely emerging as bombings and gunfights rage throughout the city. ISIS fighters have smashed holes through the walls of adjacent houses to be able to move without being seen by Iraqi and coalition forces.
“It’s strange and terrifying,” a young woman, barely visible in the gloom of a basement in her house, where she hid after giving birth to a baby girl 72 days ago, told Reuters. “I rarely go upstairs.”
In the 10 days since security forces moved on the western half of the city, 26,000 people have fled, according to Iraq’s minister of displacement and migration.
The streams of civilians exiting the city have brought on a search by Iraqi forces — who are by turns both encouraging and harsh — for ISIS militants disguised among those fleeing.
Townsend acknowledged that ISIS militants were trying to hide among those escapees. “I think it’s happening. I don’t think it’s happening on a large scale,” he said, adding that those captured appeared be low-level fighters who had had enough of the fighting in the city and wanted to get out.
An Iraqi intelligence officer told Reuters that he had picked up on a trait common among ISIS fighters trying to escape the city.
“You can tell because they are afraid. Those who are not Daesh are also afraid but it’s different from the fear of those who are with Daesh,” he said without elaborating, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Recently, in the small village of Al-Salam, near Mosul, men and women fleeing Mosul were separated, and an intelligence officer addressed them.
“Look at this man,” an Iraqi intelligence officer said with his hands on the shoulders of a young man.
“He came and he admitted to me that he pledged allegiance [to ISIS], and he was with them for 10 days, and nothing will happen to him.”
Other men soon came forward, admitting to pledging allegiance to the terrorist group, all of them for short periods.
“You see, nothing will happen, you pledged allegiance, you worked with them for a week, a month, three months, it’s nothing. What we need is information,” the intelligence officer said.
“We need to finish with Daesh, they are like a cancer,” he said. “If it persists, it will consume the body.”
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