Monday, October 31, 2016

The Battle for Mosul


The Battle for Mosul and its fights


Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd)


 Retaking Mosul: Soldiers of the Iraqi army raise their weapons in celebration on the outskirts of Qayyarah, Iraq, on October 19, 2016. A senior Iraqi general called on Iraqis fighting for the Islamic State group in Mosul to surrender as the operation to retake the militant-held city entered the third day. AP/PTI


Oct 21, 2016

To what extent the US Air Force will follow humanitarian norms in Mosul cannot yet be assessed. The battle for the core of the city will be equally bloody contingent upon the will of the defender, the resources available and the effectiveness or otherwise of the isolation and investment of the city


WITH ISIS (Daesh) under increasing pressure in Northern Iraq, it's future in West Asia may well be decided by the battle for Mosul which began on October 17. Western electronic media is beaming live pictures of the hostilities which have not yet begun in earnest. However, it will be a long-drawn and tragically a very bloody affair. How are battles for major cities fought in modern times and what major issues will decide the outcome of this battle? Before delving into any detail it may be remembered that Daesh is not down and out yet. It has the resources, the will and the capacity to fight; especially since it's so-called Amir, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi is known to be in Mosul.
Mosul is the second-largest city of Iraq, with a population which was earlier 2.5-million strong. Currently, approximately a little more than one million people reside there after Daesh defeated the Iraqi army in 2014. The presence of civilian population of this magnitude creates more problems for the attacker who has to restrict the use of firepower and tip toe around the populated zones, if the morals of warfare are implicitly followed. The defender, on the other hand, has the option of using the population as a human shield to prevent unrestricted movement of the offensive force. This isn’t conventional warfare so rules are grudgingly followed as is evident with the kind of destruction witnessed in  Fallujah a few months ago. 
Cities usually have suburbs and even further away from the city centre are  small rural clusters. These are used by the defender to prevent the offensive elements from closing with the city. Open stretches are mined with both anti-personnel and anti-tank mines and covered by missiles or anti-tank rockets to prevent tanks and infantry combat vehicles opening routes for the infantry. Once these peripheral zones are breached at the cost of heavy casualties, the defender will fall back on improvised explosive devices (IED) to cause more attrition as the battle moves into the city. The presence of population prevents the freedom of use of air power due to the high risk of collateral damage. In the case of the war in Syria and Iraq, estimates of civilian casualties from air strikes against cities have been extremely high. Entire stretches of Aleppo have been reduced to rubble and humanitarian considerations have not been in focus. To what extent the US air force will follow humanitarian norms in Mosul cannot yet be assessed. The battle for the core of the city will be equally bloody contingent upon the will of the defender, the resources available and, most importantly, the effectiveness or otherwise of the isolation and investment of the city. It is at that stage that the civilian population suffers the most. In Fallujah, one avenue of escape was kept open for the civilians to flee. Many Daesh fighters may attempt to exploit this opening too. What are isolation and investment? Before commencing the attack on a city, it is important for the attacker to cut off avenues of reinforcement or escape. The resultant isolation in the case of Mosul will ensure that Daesh fighters from elsewhere do not get in. Once the city is being reduced, there is no escape for Daesh to live and fight another day. The isolation involves placing tanks and  ICVs centred on infantry deployments which are occupied astride the roads and tracks which act as avenues. Since Daesh would have deployed in the rural clusters around Mosul to deny close reconnaissance and a foothold into the city it is important for the Iraqi army to push back a major part of these elements to afford launch pads, footholds and other multiple options for the direction of commencement of the main attack against the city. The intent is to keep Daesh guessing and address the crust of the defences to punch holes through which the attacking troops will be funnelled. 
The use of artillery to reduce the buildings from where resistance will be intense will be restricted but again contingent upon the discretion of the attacker. Once the penetrations have been effected, it becomes a slogging match. A city like Mosul is not closely packed with buildings. There are sufficient open spaces where helicopters can hover or land disgorging Special Forces who would target some specific objectives like command centres and communication facilities. The chief weapons of the infantry of the Iraqi army should be the rocket launcher to punch holes and destroy pill boxes; the sniper; and the flame thrower.  The term Iraqi army, is being generically used here to signify the attacking force. It is however well-known that the offensive against Mosul has three or even four elements. First, is the Iraqi army, largely Shia but with many Sunnis too. Second is the Kurdish Peshmerga of Masoud Barzani from the north. Third are the US Special Forces and air force. The  Shia militias are an important element, although there are reports that they may not participate unless things go wrong for the Iraqi army. The latest entrant is Erdogan's Turkish army which is attempting to secure a role for itself in both Syria and northern Iraq to prevent undue influence and political significance to the Kurdish elements involved in the fight. The US has made it clear that the presences of any foreign armed elements require approval of the government at Baghdad and such approval has yet to be given. The planning, command and control and application of a force of such disparate groups with their diverse interests and operational methods will be a big  challenge. The possibility of some elements of Iran also being directly involved cannot be ruled out. 
Russia is unlikely to be directly involved but it has promised full support to the Peshmerga in terms of arms and equipment supplies. Russia has also provided helicopters and artillery equipment to Iraq with the intent of ensuring that it retains influence in a fight which will be dictated by US advisers and planners. The bewildering issue currently is the emerging relationship between Turkey and Russia which is apparently taking a positive turn. How the Russian support to the Kurds of any hue and nationality will be taken by the Turkish leadership is unclear at present. The factor which should be uppermost in all minds is the effect that the operations and the intensity of Daesh resistance will have on the civil population. The displacement of the large population is not something the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) is fully prepared for, financially or from infrastructure point of view. For a change in Iraq the human angle is being looked upon with great concern but clearly resources do not match requirement. The challenge is greatly multiplied by Daesh's propensity to remain unpredictable and resort to unethical practices such as a potential mass use of chemical weapons known to be in its possession. Finally, does the timing indicate any considerations other than military and strategic. With the US presidential election in another two weeks, could this have waited? That's the question no one will answer for now.
The writer, a former GoC of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, is now a Fellow with the Delhi Policy Group.




Islamic State Group

Most recent

What Is IS?

David Aaronovitch and a range of experts untangle the ideological threads that make up the 'Islamic State'.

 Following its attacks in Paris, debate has raged about whether the so-called Islamic State is a political movement or a religious one. But what if it's both, and more besides? David Aaronovitch calls on testimony from journalists, historians, political scientists and philosophers to explore the complex, sometimes conflicting elements that have shaped this organisation.

  He examines its place in the long tradition of Apocalyptic anti-Westernism - a tradition that has also appeared in a European Christian context, in Japan, and elsewhere. David traces the role of senior figures from Saddam Hussein's regime in its creation and thinking, and asks whether avenging the invasion of Iraq has simply given IS its opportunity to prosper, or provides its guiding mission.

He explores the role of IS in the relationship between Sunni and Shia Islam, and its use of Islamic history in its worldview and its propaganda.

And finally, David asks, how unusual is the Islamic State?

Producers: Phil Tinline and Wesley Stephenson.



Iraq's Shia militia groups launch an attack against IS militants in Tal Afar, west of Mosul.
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Ahmed Rashid
Ahmed Rashid argues that Islamabad's response to the deadly attack on a police college in Quetta has been counter-productive



               Voices from Mosul as battle nears

The BBC spoke to a citizen journalists' group with reporters in Mosul, which said IS had threatened to shoot any civilians trying to leave the city.
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Battle for Mosul: Inside the Kurdish advance on the last IS stronghold

The BBC's Orla Guerin was with Kurdish fighters in the village of Fazliya as it was seized from IS.


                   My Name Is Isis

Isis Thompson talks to others who share their name with the radical Islamist State group.

Filmmaker Isis Thompson talks to others around the world who share their name with the Jihadist group Islamic State, finding out how its actions have impacted on their lives. In the last 12 months, the name Isis has gone from being a slightly obscure but pretty name associated with ancient Egypt, Bob Dylan and the dog off Downton Abbey to something a great deal darker. For Isis Thompson it's been uncomfortable, "Many is the time that I find myself breaking into a little bit of a sweat when I have to introduce myself. It's like having to say "Hi my name is Nazi Thompson". And then there is the inevitable reply, 'That's unfortunate.'" Hearing the experiences of others of the same name - from the chat up lines of Nottingham night clubs to Syrian refugee camps - Isis considers how a global news story can impact on an individual because of something as apparently arbitrary as their name. Presenter / Producer: Isis Thompson Executive Producer: Russell Finch A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4.



            Life inside 'Islamic State'

Mike Thomson reports on an extraordinary series of diaries on life inside 'Islamic State'.

Ever since so-called Islamic State took full control of the city of Raqqa in north eastern Syria little has been known about day-to-day life there. Having declared it the capital of their self-proclaimed Capital, IS are determined to keep things that way. The penalty for speaking to the western media is beheading and at least 10 activists or journalists have lost their lives in this awful way. Few people now dare to talk. In addition IS forbids people in Raqqa from leaving the city without permission, so the only way out for many to get out is to put themselves in the hands of local people smuggling groups. To complete the isolation of people there, IS has introduced much tougher controls over local internet cafes, tightened monitoring of mobile phone networks and even banned the sale of televisions. But over the last year Today Programme Correspondent Mike Thomson has managed to make intermittent contact with a small anti-IS activist group in Raqqa called Al-Sharqiya 24, whose members are determined to speak out. He initially carried short interviews from London with a couple of their members. These were broadcast on Radio 4's Today programme and this gave us all a glimpse of what is happening there on the ground. But the outside world was still left without much idea of what day-to-day life was like in Raqqa. So one of the group's members agreed to write a series of personal diaries for the BBC about life for him and his family and friends there. What followed is an extraordinary and at time chilling insight into how so called Islamic State's brutality and injustices permeate just about every level of life in their now infamous capital. In order to protect the identity of the diarist. As well as his friends, family and fellow activists, all names and some other details have been changed. Mohammed, which is not his real name, takes us from life in what had been a relatively peaceful city, in the first two years of the war, to the takeover by so-called Islamic State. He reveals that within days women were being stopped in the street by IS fighters for failing to completely cover their bodies, while men, rather bizarrely, were ordered to always keep their trousers above ankle length. Both genders would be flogged, fined or made to attend compulsory Sharia classes for breaking such rules. IS brutality, our diarist tells us, soon gets very much worse. He passes a woman accused of adultery being stoned in the street and men alleged to have talked to foreign journalists or to have links with IS's enemies, being beheaded. He himself is subjected to forty lashes after cursing out loud on witnessing one of these public executions. Mohammed recounts how one day a friend came into the shop he works in and advised him to take a different route home that night, saying there was something he did not want him to see. Unable to resist his curiosity, Mohammed says he ignored this warning and took his normal way home, only to discover the beheaded body of an activist friend on public display. We learn how ever increasing taxes imposed by IS are pushing food prices beyond the reach of many ordinary people in Raqqa and that many shops have been forced to close because so much of the population are too afraid to walk the streets. Mohammed tells us that IS has even banned shops from selling televisions in order to limit what they know about life outside the city. Smoking has also been forbidden. We also hear of the air strikes that have killed so many in Raqqa. From bombing by President Assad's forces prior to IS's takeover of the city which killed his father, to the ongoing ones by Russia that continue to cause panic, alarm and loss of life. Getting the diaries out of Raqqa was often a heart-stopping experience. For days on end calls to try and contact our diarist and his group would go unanswered. The BBC team often wondered if he and many others had been caught by IS. It was a horrible feeling. On one occasion there was news that two anti-IS activists who had managed to get over the border into Turkey had been beheaded. Mike and his colleagues feared at first that one of them might be our diarist. Fortunately, we did manage to contact him the following day. What makes somebody speak out in the way Mohammed has, knowing that he is putting at risk the lives of almost ever he holds dear by doing so? From his diaries the answer to that question soon becomes very clear. Having seen friends and relatives butchered, the life of his community shattered and the local economy ruined by these notorious extremists, our courageous diarist believes he's fighting back by telling the BBC what is happening to his beloved city.


So-called Islamic State is using thousands of civilians as human shields in Mosul, the UN says.
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              Battle for Mosul: The story so far

Satellite images and maps reveal how the long-awaited military offensive to reclaim Mosul from so-called Islamic State (IS) is progressing.

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Laura Smith
BBC Monitoring
So-called Islamic State (IS) has gone on a propaganda offensive as its enemies close in on its Iraqi stronghold, Mosul.

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Hundreds of IS fighters have been killed in the battle for the Iraqi city of Mosul, US generals say.
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Hidden dangers in the hunt for IS

As the battle against so-called Islamic State continues, Ian Pannell looks at the hidden dangers that face Iraqi government forces as they close in on Mosul.


A human rights group challenges Kurdish screening of males fleeing so-called Islamic State in Iraq.

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Two Yazidi women who fled so-called Islamic State in Iraq win Europe's top human rights award.

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Islamic State's battle plan for its defence of Mosul is gradually being revealed.

So-called Islamic State's (IS) battle plan for its defence of Mosul is gradually being revealed, as Iraqi and Kurdish forces advance on the city.



Inside one of Islamic State's tunnels

Orla Guerin goes inside one of Islamic State's tunnel networks on the frontline outside the northern Iraqi city Mosul.


Oil fires started by IS outside Mosul turn sheep black

Oil fires started by IS militants as they retreated to Mosul have blighted the Iraqi town of Qayyarah, polluting the air and turning sheep black.



The black sheep of Mosul

Oil fires started by IS outside Mosul turn sheep black

As militants from so-called Islamic State retreated to Mosul from the northern Iraqi town of Qayyarah in August, they set oil wells on fire. The fires have blighted the town, polluting the air and turning local sheep black. BBC Persian's Nafiseh Kohnavard spoke to residents, who say their health has been affected. Video produced by Joe Inwood