While Iraqi and Kurdish forces face heavy resistance from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant about 10 miles out from Mosul, Iraq, Pentagon press operations director Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters today that there continues to be solid progress in the efforts to liberate the city from ISIL control.
Heavier resistance is anticipated once the counter-ISIL forces enter populated areas, he said.
Yet significant gains were made over the weekend, Davis said, adding that the heavily Christian town of Bartella, 13 miles east of Mosul, is in the process of being cleared by friendly forces. Kurdish forces have captured Bashiqa, 8 miles northeast of Mosul, and are now clearing it, while the nearby town of Tall-Kayf has been isolated and efforts to retake the town will begin soon, he added.
“ISIL continues to augment its manpower,” Davis said. “From the outside we see them taking administrative and support personnel -- people who are not normally involved in arms – [and] they are arming them. We are also seeing them move in reinforcements from outside, but they are struggling to maintain effective command and control of their forces, largely due to coalition airstrikes.”
He added that because ISIL controls a wide swath of territory west of Mosul, the enemy brings in people from Syria and other areas it controls.
‘Extensive Preparation’ Unearthed
The press operations director said many of the Iraqi-cleared towns around Mosul have revealed complex tunnel systems and other forms” of extensive preparation,” he added.
“[Diversion] is a tactic we’ve largely expected,” he said. “We know as we try to go into Mosul, we will see [ISIL] pop up in other places and create diversions, and we’ve seen those specifically in the last three days in a few places. Kirkuk is where they popped up and launched assaults, trying to divert the [Iraqi] forces.”
Today, he noted, reports of a counter attack are coming in out of Sinjar.
“This is to be expected,” Davis said. “We know as [ISIL] feels the pressure on Mosul, and they will try to divert attention as best they can by hitting elsewhere.”
Advance to Mosul is Methodical
Going into Mosul is being done in a very methodical and deliberate way by design, Davis said, and as the forces advance, they pause as necessary to do back clearing, to allow their logistics crews to catch up with them and to bring in additional forces to cover their flanks.
The captain said ISIL’s foreign fighters -- whose passports were taken from them or publicly burned -- are the enemy troops largely left in Mosul.
“Those are the people we expect to stay in Mosul and fight to the death,” he said, adding in other cases, they’re seeing ISIL’s mid-level management leave or prepare to leave. “Some have moved their families] out in advance of [the Iraqi liberation of Mosul], indicating they might try to make a break for it.”
Davis said ISIL has used suicide bombers with homemade bombs on vests as part of their offensive and defensive tactics, including to provide cover while other ISIL fighters retreat.
As friendly forces advance to liberate Mosul, the Iraq government has encouraged residents to stay in their homes when possible so the city can be cleared without having large numbers of people flee, Davis said.
ISIL Outnumbered By Iraqi Forces
The difference in the number of ISIL fighters versus friendly forces is massive, Davis said, noting that with a city population of more than 1 million people, the highest estimate of ISIL fighters remaining there is about 5,000 troops. And they will contend with about a much larger force of some 20,000 Iraqi troops, 15,000 Kurds, a couple thousand federal police, and continued U.S.-led coalition airpower, training and equipment.
“Everything is in favor of the coalition to defeat ISIL,” the press operations director said of the approximately 10-day old operation, calling the enemy “a much smaller and vastly inferior force.”
It is going to take a while, Davis said of Mosul’s liberation from ISIL’s two-year control. “[And] it’s going to be very difficult, especially once we see [the Iraqi] forces get into the city.”
But, he added, “There’s no question Mosul will fall.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)