The Fight for Iraq
The Mosul Meat Grinder?

The Iraqi Army on Thursday launched a ‘second phase’ of the Mosul offensive after a month-long pause. Reuters reports:

More than 5,000 soldiers and federal police troops, redeployed from Mosul’s southern outskirts, entered half a dozen southeastern districts, while counter-terrorism forces advanced in al-Quds and Karama districts after reinforcements arrived.

Other soldiers pushed simultaneously toward the city’s northern limits. U.S. military advisers were seen watching operations as coalition aircraft circled overhead.

“At 0700 this morning, the three fronts began advancing toward the city center. The operation is ongoing today and tomorrow and until we liberate the eastern side of the city completely,” Lieutenant General Ali Freiji, who was overseeing army operations in the north, told Reuters.

Iraqi forces have taken around half of the eastern side of Mosul, which is bisected by the Tigris river, but have yet to enter the western side, where 2,000-year-old markets and narrow alleyways are likely to complicate any advance.

Anyone thinking that the rest of the city will fall quickly should probably temper their expectations. On Wednesday, Iraq’s president Haider al-Abadi said that retaking the city would take at least three additional months.

But perhaps more notable than the time spent in removing ISIS from Iraq’s second largest city is the blood that is being spilled to do so. The Iraqi government doesn’t announce official casualty figures, but Politico reported earlier this month that at least one U.S.-trained elite unit of the Iraqi army known as the “Golden Division” was taking “upwards of 50 percent casualties” and that “the division could become combat ineffective in a little over a month, and perhaps even sooner.” And if this “second phase” of the battle is more successful than the first it will be because it will apparently involve increased U.S. participation in the fight.

The scale of the intelligence failure here (if that’s what it is) appears to be immense. According to the spokesman for U.S. operations against ISIS, the estimated before the start of the battle was that there were “3,000 to 4,500 ISIS fighters in Mosul”. Since then, the U.S. has claimed that 2,000 ISIS fighters have been “killed or gravely wounded”. Presumably that figure does not include the 600 suicide car bombs that ISIS has used as of December 1st. For those of you have done the math and are wondering if ISIS might only have 400 fighters left in all of Mosul, well, then we’ve got a dam on the Tigris to sell you. All of the above certainly lends some credence to accusations that Team Obama distorted intelligence on ISIS.

Now that the fight is joined anew, we can only hope for the best possible outcome. But the repeated failures of the Obama Administration to appreciate the threat posed by ISIS—from the “jayvee team” remark, to killing 200% of their estimated 2014 strength—bear keeping in mind. The incoming Trump Administration, for all the question marks surrounding its broader strategy, is unlikely to repeat this mistake.

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