The urban warfare in Mosul has created an ideal setting for both Islamic State and Iraqi snipers, and one young Iraqi policeman is taking full advantage.
Yousef Ali is only 20-years-old, but he is a top marksman in the Iraqi federal police force. He hunts ISIS forces in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The city’s abandoned buildings and narrow streets create difficult conditions for conventional forces, but the setting is ideal for Ali.
“Two or three days ago, [ISIS] set some fires to make a smokescreen, then some of them came at us with suicide belts,” Ali told USA Today in an interview published Tuesday. “I killed two of them.”
Iraqi Security Forces forced ISIS out of eastern Mosul in January, but the terrorist group has resorted to desperate tactics to hold the west. Waves of suicide bombers, smokescreens and the use of civilians as human shields are a common sight as the ISF continue to retake the city street-by-street.
“This is the most significant urban combat to take place since World War II,” Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townshend, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said in late March. “It is tough and brutal.”
Approximately 774 Iraqi troops have been killed since the fight for Mosul began in October, while another 4,600 have been wounded, Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, reported in March.
Ali and his fellow federal policemen fight on the front line in Mosul. The Iraqi Federal Police Third Division has been in the city for six months, living in spartan conditions while fighting ISIS day and night. They try and keep things light, competing with each other over kills on the radio, but they have also suffered casualties.
Iraqi federal police lost three men in just one week of fighting in western Mosul, Maj. Hisham Amer of the Federal Police Third Division told VICE News earlier this month.
On the ground, the federal police’s SWAT team clears houses, rooting out any remaining ISIS fighters.
“We are [often] 10 yards away, with [ISIS fighters] shooting at us,” Muntader Khazem, a SWAT team sergeant, told USA Today. “Sometimes we go from the corner of the occupied house. Sometimes from the front or the back. Sometimes two teams attack from two sides at once.”
It is unclear exactly how many ISIS forces remain in Mosul, though some reports claim as many as 8,000. The group is largely outgunned by the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces, but it is much more familiar with the streets and hiding places, meaning the sniper war could continue for some time.
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