The U.S.-backed Iraqi Security Forces are months away from fully retaking the city of Mosul from ISIS, as they suffer historic casualties among their most elite fighters.
Iraq relies on its elite counter-terrorism forces to do the majority of its frontline fighting. The division of forces have suffered nearly 20-25% casualties in the months-long operation against ISIS, spawning fears that they may not be able to be replaced.
The high casualty rate comes amid constant ISIS suicide car bombs in a grueling street-by-street fight. The counter-terrorism forces may also have moved too quickly into the city without additional support, increasing their vulnerability. “The counterterrorism units shouldn’t have started in the east until the other axes had arrived,” a retired U.S. special operations commander told The Washington Post. He elaborated, “It was a mistake. ISIS was able to focus all its fighters on them. These are soldiers that can’t easily be replaced.”
The fight is further complicated by the nearly 1 million civilians who remain inside the city, and ISIS’s frequent use of them as human shields. “If there were no civilians, we’d just burn it all,” an Iraqi counter-terrorism commander told The Washington Post. He said ISIS floods the streets with civilians when his forces enter, stopping the deployment of heavy munitions. “I couldn’t bomb with artillery or tanks, or heavy weapons. I said, ‘We can’t do anything,” he lamented.
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