The U.S.-backed Iraqi Security Forces are struggling to hold onto hard-fought ground in the Battle for Mosul against the Islamic State, The Washington Post reports.
Iraqi Security Force soldiers told WaPo that different units saw retaking areas as “a competition,” leading to brash decisions that cost the lives of troops and civilians. ISIS snipers and car bombers threatened to force back hard-fought gains in Western Mosul, where the fighting has only worsened.
The Iraqi operation to retake Mosul began in October 2016 and has been fraught with complications since. ISIS had nearly two years to dig into the city, heavily fortifying their defensive positions, and preparing suicide bomb vehicles. Nearly 1.5 million civilians were in the city before the battle began, now, 750,000 civilians remain in half of the city ISIS still controls after four months of nearly non-stop fighting.
Western mosul, which remains in ISIS hands, is far more densely populated by civilians. ISIS uses these civilians to form a human shield ring around their defensive position, rendering U.S. and Iraqi airstrikes less effective. The dense neighborhoods also have much narrower streets which don’t allow the Iraqi Security Forces to use their armored humvees. These humvees are the first line of defense against ISIS suicide car bombs, which wreak havoc on checkpoints.
President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have loosened U.S. rules of engagement for the hundreds of U.S. special operators embedded with the Iraqi troops. Ground commanders no longer need to clear some artillery strikes with their commands to support ongoing high tempo operations.
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