Battle of Mosul (2016–17)

The Battle of Mosul (2016–17) ( Arabic: معركة الموصل‎‎, Ma‘rakat al-Mawṣil; Central Kurdish: شەڕی مووسڵ‎, Şeriy Mûsil) was a major military campaign launched by the Iraqi Government forces with allied militias, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and international forces to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), [65] [66] [67] which had seized the city in June 2014. [68] During the military intervention against ISIL, Iraqi and Peshmerga forces had already made unsuccessful attempts to retake the city 2015 and again in 2016, despite limited gains.

The offensive, dubbed Operation "We Are Coming, Nineveh" (قادمون يا نينوى; Qadimun Ya Naynawa), [69] [70] began on 16 October 2016, with forces besieging ISIL-controlled areas in the Nineveh Governorate surrounding Mosul, [71] [72] [73] and continued with Iraqi troops and Peshmerga fighters engaging ISIL on three fronts outside Mosul, going from village to village in the surrounding area in the largest deployment of Iraqi troops since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. [74] The battle was also the world's single largest military operation in nearly 15 years, [47] as well as being the most brutal urban battle since World War II. [75]

At dawn on 1 November 2016, Iraqi Special Operations Forces entered the city from the east. [76] Met with fierce fighting, the government advance into the city was slowed by elaborate defenses and by the presence of civilians, [77] but the Iraqi Prime Minister declared "full liberation of eastern side of Mosul" on 24 January 2017. [78] Iraqi troops began their offensive to recapture western Mosul on 19 February 2017. [79]

The Battle of Mosul was concurrent with the Battle of Sirte (2016) in Libya, and with the Raqqa campaign conducted by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against ISIL's capital city and stronghold in Syria. [80]

On 9 July 2017, the Iraqi Prime Minister arrived in Mosul to announce the victory over ISIL, and an official declaration of victory was proclaimed on 10 July. [81] [9] [10] [82] However, heavy clashes continued in the Old City for almost another 2 weeks. [83] [13] It was estimated that removing the explosives from Mosul and repairing the city over the next 5 years would require $50 billion dollars (2017 USD), [84] while Mosul's Old City alone would cost about $1 billion USD to repair. [10]

Background

Map of the territorial control during the 2016 Mosul offensive, as of August 2016

General background

Mosul is Iraq's second most populous city. It fell to 800–1,500 ISIL militants in June 2014, because of the largely Sunni population's deep distrust of the primarily Shia Iraqi government, and its corrupt armed forces. [29] [85] It was in the Great Mosque in Mosul that ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the beginning of ISIL's self-proclaimed "caliphate" which spans Iraq and Syria. [85] The original population of 2.5 million has fallen to approximately 1.5 million after two years of ISIL rule. The city was once extremely diverse, with ethnic minorities including Armenians, Yazidis, Assyrian, Turkmen, and Shabak people, all of whom have suffered and continue to suffer considerably under the (majority Sunni Arab) Islamic State. [86] Mosul remains the last stronghold of ISIL in Iraq, [87] and the anticipated offensive to reclaim it was promoted as the "mother of all battles". [88] [89] [90] [91]

Preparations for the battle

In the weeks leading up to the ground offensive, the US-led CJTF – OIR coalition bombed ISIL targets, and the Iraqi Army made gradual advances on the city. [74] Royal Air Force's Reaper drones, Typhoons, and Tornados targeted " rocket launchers, ammunition stockpiles, artillery pieces and mortar positions" in the 72 hours before the ground assault began. [92] Leaflets dropped on the city by the Iraqi military advised young male residents to "rise up" against ISIL when the battle began. [87] To prepare defenses against the assault, ISIL operatives dug 4 m2 holes around the city, which they planned to fill with burning oil to reduce visibility [74] and slow advances. [26] They also built hundreds of elaborate tunnels in the villages surrounding Mosul, rigged with explosives and booby-traps, and laid improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and mines along the roads. [93] There was considerable concern that ISIL might employ chemical weapons against soldiers and civilians. [94]

According to Iraqi sources, the assault towards Mosul was being waged from Al-Khazer axis (east of Mosul), Mosul Dam (northern axis), Baashiqa axis (eastern axis), Al-Qayyarah axis (southern axis), and Talul el-Baj- Al-Khadr axis (southwestern axis). [95]

Forces involved in the offensive

U.S. Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force, at Qayyarah Airfield West, 22 September 2016

About 3,000–5,000 ISIL fighters were estimated to be in Mosul city, according to the United States Department of Defense. [96] Other estimates ranged as low as 2,000 and high as 12,000 ISIL fighters. [29] [31] Mosul Eye estimated approximately 8,000–9,000 fighters loyal to ISIL, with "half of them... highly trained, and the rest... either teenagers or not well trained. About ten percent of the fighters are foreign (Arabs and non-Arabs). The rest are Iraqis. Most are from Nineveh’s townships and districts." [97] Prior to the start of the battle, in late September 2016, it was estimated that around 20,000 ISIL fighters were living in Mosul, [98] many of whom later fled the city to Syria and Ar-Raqqah, when Iraqi forces began to besiege Mosul.

The Iraqi-led coalition was initially estimated by CNN to have 94,000 members, [99] but this number was later revised upward to 108,500; [27] 54,000 to 60,000 Iraqi security forces (ISF) soldiers, 16,000 Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) fighters (also referred to as PMU), and 40,000 Peshmerga (including approximately 200 Iranian Kurdish female fighters from the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) [100] are deployed in the battle. [25] [26] The Iraqi and Peshmerga forces deployed for the Mosul operation were estimated to have outnumbered the ISIL militants present by 10-to-1. [47]

Among the PMF units, the Nineveh Plain Protection Units composed of Assyrians are among the paramilitary forces in the government coalition. [101] [102] Shia militias, including several brigades of the paramilitary organization Hashd al-Shaabi, the Peace Companies, Kata'ib Hezbollah, the League of the Righteous, the Badr Organization, Saraya Ashura, Saraya Khorasani, Kata'ib al-Imam Ali, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba and Turkmen Brigades also took part. [103] [104] The Ezidi community of the Sinjar region contributed the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ) and Êzîdxan Women's Units (YJÊ), [105] which are operating in concert with Sunni Arab Shammar tribal militias and People's Defence Forces (HPG) of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). [106] Other Assyrian forces involved in the planned offensive includes the Nineveh Plain Forces (NPF) and Dwekh Nawsha, who are allied to the Peshmerga. [107] [108]

Peshmerga soldiers prepare to conduct a combined arms live-fire exercise with an Italian instructor near Erbil, on 12 October 2016.

An international coalition of 60 nations, led by the United States, is supporting Iraq's war against ISIL, providing logistical and air support, intelligence, and advice. [109] The international coalition forces are headquartered 60 kilometres (37 mi) south of Mosul at Qayyarah Airfield West (or Q-West) in Qayyarah, which was retaken from ISIL in June. [110] About 560 U.S. troops from the 101st Airborne Division were deployed to Q-West for the battle, including command and control elements, a security detachment, an airfield operations team, and logistics and communications specialists. [111] The U.S. deployed HIMARS rocket launchers and M777 howitzers, manned by the 101st's 2nd Brigade Combat Team and the Golf Company, 526th Brigade Support Battalion. The French army deployed four CAESAR howitzers and 150 to 200 soldiers at Qayyarah, with 600 more French troops announced at the end of September. [112] An additional 150 French soldiers are in Erbil, east of Mosul, training Peshmerga. [104] The aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, with a squadron of 24 Rafale M jets, was deployed from Toulon to the Syrian coast to support the operation against ISIL through airstrikes and reconnaissance missions; 12 other Rafale jets are operating out of French Air Force bases in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). [113] [114] 80 Australian special forces soldiers and 210 Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) soldiers were also deployed to assist the Peshmerga. In addition, the Canadian Forces 21 Electronic Warfare Regiment was also reported to be in the area, working to intercept and relay ISIL communications, while a Role 2 Canadian Army field hospital with 60 personnel has been set up to treat Peshmerga casualties. [115] [116]

An Iraqi soldier during a course on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense training at Camp Taji. Coalition forces have expressed fears ISIL may use chemical weapons during the Battle of Mosul.

The Ba'ath loyalists group, known to be led by Saddam Hussein's former vice president Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, issued a statement before the start of operations calling for the people of the city to start an uprising against ISIL and announced that they will fight the "terrorist organization." [117] [118]

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