Iraqi generals defended their conduct throughout the U.S. backed campaign to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State in a Pentagon press conference Thursday.
Iraqi Security Force Brigadier General Yahya Rasool highlighted the intense combat and barbaric tactics of ISIS throughout the nearly nine month battle. Rasool particularly recalled the extremely narrow alleys in the western half of the city, where he said that two people could not even walk side by side, thereby limiting the use of armored vehicles to defend against suicide bombers.
Amidst this dense urban combat environment, the panel of Iraqi and Kurdish generals explained the limits on their ability to defeat the enemy. They described how the Iraqi Security Forces were barred from the use of heavy weaponry and U.S. air support was limited to targets that could be hit without civilian casualties. ISIS exploited any opening they could find in the battle, frequently employing suicide bombers “of both genders.”
“This was one of the most difficult military operations since World War II,” U.S. special envoy to the counter-ISIL coalition Brett McGurk told reporters at the State Department Thursday.
McGurk highlighted the nearly 2 million civilians in the city at the beginning of the battle and the painstaking methods the Iraqi Security Forces took to preserve civilian life. “One of the reasons the liberation was delayed was because ISIS was holed up in a building with civilians in the basement,” McGurk said, recalling ISIS’s use of civilian shields.
“[ISIS] slaughtered, starved, and raped everything in that city. I don’t have words to describe this,” Rasool said. The Iraqi Security Forces battle for Mosul is “something that’s going to be taught in war colleges for years to come,” he added.
Despite the declaration of victory from the Iraqi Security Forces, pockets of ISIS fighters remain in some parts of Mosul and control some smaller cities. “There’s a lot of mopping up and back clearing to be done, Operation Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told Pentagon reporters Tuesday. Townsend expects ISIS to revert to a terrorist insurgency in some parts of Iraq and to continue to put up a fierce fight in cities that remain under its control.
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