Iraqi government forces recently launched the next phase of their offensive against ISIS in Mosul, the terrorist group’s last urban stronghold in the country.
US-led coalition forces have supported Iraqi troops since the campaign against ISIS in Mosul began in mid-October, and that backing as continued in the weeks since the eastern side of the city was retaken in late January.
In a February 11 strike, shown in footage below provided by the US Defence Department, coalition aircraft knocked out an ISIS tank near the city.
The strike against the tank near Mosul was one of 28 engagements conducted during six airstrikes in the country that day, Operation Inherent Resolve officials said in a release.
Five airstrikes near Mosul targeted two ISIS tactical units and destroyed three motor systems, two supply caches, two ISIS-held buildings, and engineering equipment. The strikes also destroyed 13 watercraft like the ones the group has used to manoeuvre along the Tigris River, which divides Mosul into western and eastern portions.
Farther north, near Irbil, a coalition strike destroyed an ISIS-held building and a weapons cache.
Iraqi forces recaptured eastern Mosul in late January, after three months of fighting that took a heavy toll on elite Iraqi units charged with leading the offensive as well as on Iraqi civilians, hundreds of thousands of whom remain in both sides of the city.
While eastern Mosul is back in Iraqi government hands, many people in that part of the city say ISIS fighters remain and pose a deadly threat. Suicide bombers have targeted Iraqi troops and government-allied tribal forces, as well as restaurants and civilians on the eastern side of Mosul.
Despite that latent danger, Iraqi forces early on Sunday kicked off the next phase of the campaign against ISIS in Mosul, as ground units advanced on villages southwest of the city, backed by US-led coalition air support and artillery fired by militarised police units.
“This is zero hour and we are going to end this war, God willing,” Mahmoud Mansour, a police officer, told the Associated Press he prepared to move out on Sunday.
“They will try to cause as many losses as possible, because they know they’re going to die anyway,” said Alaa, an Iraqi trooper, referring to ISIS fighters.
“This battle of Mosul is my first, and with the help of God we will rid the country of these Daesh rats,” he added, according to AFP, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Thousands of US personnel are in Iraq assisting the government. In early January, a spokesman for the US-led coalition said the number of Western advisers in Mosul had doubled to about 450.
US personnel were reportedly near the front lines advising Iraqi forces during the fighting in eastern Mosul. US special-operations forces are also embedded with some Iraqi units, and they appear to be involved in operations against western Mosul.
“We are very close to it, if not already engaged in that fight,” US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters in Abu Dhabi, according to the AP. He declined to go into more detail, saying he owed “confidentiality” to the troops.
The fight to retake western Mosul looks to be especially deadly.
That side of the city has older neighbourhoods criss-crossed by narrow streets and alleys that will limit the use of armoured vehicles. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of civilians — including 350,000 children — are believed to still be in that part of the city.
As many as 400,000 people could be displaced by fighting in western Mosul, and international aid groups are reportedly scrambling to prepare for the influx.
“We are racing against the clock to prepare emergency sites south of Mosul to receive displaced families,” Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, said in a statement.
But operations against ISIS in western Mosul have gotten underway amid the strain put on Iraqi-US relations by some of US President Donald Trump’s comments and policies.
Many in the country felt alienated by travel restrictions placed on seven majority-Muslim countries, including Iraq, by the Trump administration, and Trump’s repeated comments about the US taking Iraq’s oil as compensation for fighting there have inspired anger and indignation among Iraqis.
Mattis, who arrived in Iraq on Monday, said the US has no intention of seizing Iraqi oil.