The commander of the Kurdish front line against the Islamic State says 20,000 ISIS fighters are still in Mosul, the terrorist group’s regional capital in Iraq.
“We believe that more than 20,000 Daesh gunmen are in Mosul,” Peshmerga Gen. Bahram Yassim told Daniel Davis of Defense Priorities in an interview last week.
Mosul has been at the center of attention in the Iraqi fight against ISIS for the past several months. Located in Iraq’s northern region, the city is the second largest in Iraq and has remained in ISIS hands since it fell in early 2014. Coalition forces from Iraq and the Kurdish Peshmerga, supported by the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve coalition, have been encircling the city for several months, preparing to invade at a yet to be determined time.
Because of its size and significance, both Iraqi leaders and coalition partners have pushed to retake Mosul as quickly as possible. The city’s capture was one of ISIS’s first major victories, an embarrassment Iraq would like to forget. While the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have seen some success in retaking other Iraqi cities, such as Ramadi and Fallujah, the fight for Mosul presents a challenge several orders of magnitude larger than anything before.
“Terrorists, to hide themselves from coalition airstrikes, will use civilians as human shields when it is needed and they have already transferred all of their bases into civilian districts,” said Yassim. “Now Daesh (ISIS) terrorists have fully embedded themselves in all civilian areas. This is a big problem for our forces when we get inside the city during the operation.”
ISIS has frequently used human shields in an attempt to prevent coalition strikes from targeting key positions in Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon has consistently said that it does everything it can to prevent civilian casualties in its strikes, but with a population of two million people in Mosul, the possibility for collateral damage increases dramatically.
Yassim noted that Mosul’s urban environment will require “house-to-house and alley-to-alley fighting,” potentially increasing the risk to both coalition forces and civilians. ISIS fighters will often embed themselves with civilians in an attempt to ambush and hide from enemy fighters.
Echoing the assessments of other policymakers and analysts, Yassim warned that “in Mosul, there’s no telling how long the battle will last.”
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