Iraqi forces kicked off their offensive against ISIS in western Mosul on February 19, continuing the campaign against the terrorist group in Mosul — the group’s last urban stronghold in Iraq — that began in mid-October.
Throughout the campaign, the US-led coalition has provided extensive support, including on-the-ground advisers and ongoing airstrikes against ISIS in Mosul and elsewhere in the country.
In the footage below, provided by the US Defence Department, a US-led strike on February 26 wipes out a ISIS vehicle-borne improvised-explosive-device factory near Mosul, eliminating a source of one of ISIS’ favourite weapons.
There were 10 airstrikes, with a total of 80 engagements, in Iraq on February 26. Five of those strikes were in or around Mosul, targeting ISIS tactical units, fighting positions, weapons, vehicles, buildings, supplies, and a tunnel.
Those five strikes also targeted three VBIEDs and two VBIED factories.
ISIS has deployed VBIEDs with alacrity throughout the Mosul campaign, relying on suicide bombers to drive them into Iraqi forces’ positions and other targets. Iraqi troops, ever vigilant for suspicious approaching vehicles, have used missiles, rockets, and airstrikes to destroy or disable the vehicles before they can strike.
Sunday marked a renewed push by Iraqi forces advancing on western Mosul, after having been slowed for several days by bad weather.
Iraqi troops advanced on a compound of government buildings and the approaches of one of the five bridges connecting west and east Mosul across the Tigris River. As of Monday, they had captured two of the bridges.
While all five have been destroyed in the fighting, taking possession of their remains will likely facilitate the movement of Iraq personnel and supplies toward the fight and the flight of civilians away from it.
Progress continued on Tuesday, as Iraqi forces reportedly captured the main government offices in western Mosul as well as the city’s museum, where ISIS militants filmed themselves destroying priceless artifacts in early 2015.
“They killed tens of Daesh,” Lt. Col. Abdel Amir al-Mohammadawi, a spokesman for Iraq’s elite Rapid Response forces, said of the retaking of the government buildings, referring to ISIS by an Arabic acronym.
The capture of the government-building complex moves Iraqi forces closer to the nearby old city center. It also takes them farther into the densely populated western half of the city.
Narrow streets and alleys in that part of Mosul will force Iraqi personnel to dismount their armoured vehicles and engage ISIS fighters inside homes and tunnels the terrorist group has fortified throughout the city.
That portion of the battle is likely to be especially deadly for the 700,000 or so civilians still in the city. While tens of thousands have fled west Mosul, many more have stayed, hunkering down as the front line moves down their streets, through their yards, and sometimes into their homes.
“We only go upstairs to use the toilet. It’s been like this for three months, since shells started falling on the area,” Abu Mariam — an Iraqi man who, with his wife, three children, and an elderly neighbour, has hid from from the fighting in the basement of his spacious home in an upscale Mosul neighbourhood — told AFP this week.
ISIS has compounded the horrors it exacted on the Iraqi civilians under its rule in Mosul by shelling and firing on them amid the fighting in the city.
Iraqi forces and their coalition partners are much more cautious in how they deal with civilians in the line of fire, but their strikes have also taken a deadly toll on Iraqis caught amid the battle.
According to international monitoring group Airwars, during the first week of March, hundreds of civilians were allegedly killed in 11 separate incidents that were all blamed in part or in whole on coalition forces.
Possibly the deadliest incident was on March 5, when local sources said as many as 130 civilians died during an assault on a government compound. Both Iraqi and coalition forces were cited for the assault, with some sources saying US Apache helicopters participated.
The coalition recently loosened some of its rules of engagement, allowing coalition advisers on the ground with Iraqi forces to call in airstrikes directly.
With several thousand ISIS fighters thought to remain in the densely populated parts of the city, the intensity of the fighting — and the need for heavy air support — is unlikely to relent in the near future.