By Cait Flynn
Iraqi Security forces in coalition with Kurdish Peshmerga and other militaries began a campaign on Monday, Oct. 17, to take back Mosul from Islamic State control. It could take two weeks for forces to enter the city and two months to liberate it from ISIS forces, a Kurdish General said, according to CNN.
As reported in The Wall Street Journal, the campaign to oust ISIS from Mosul is supported by American airstrikes and U.S. special operations, along with Iraqi police, Sunni tribal fighters and Shiite militias backed by Iran. Kurdish Peshmerga forces initiated the attack early Monday morning from the East, during which they captured ISIS-held villages and secured supply lines into the city. The areas surrounding Mosul are flat and open, so Peshmerga offenses were met with clouds of black smoke from oil rigs set on fire by ISIS to hide suicide vehicles from U.S. air support.
Iraq and its allies had been coordinating the attack for months with the help of 100 U.S. military advisers embedded with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, according to CBS News. The campaign is not only for the recapture of the strategic city, but also for the liberation of the over 1.5 million civilians currently living under ISIS control in Mosul.
Earlier this month, ISIS executed 58 people suspected of taking part in a plot to deliver the city to Iraqi forces from the inside, according to Al Jazeera. This included one of ISIS’s own commanders, who they believed aimed to switch sides.
According to The Washington Post, Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city and a strategic stronghold in the North of the country bordering the Tigris river. Control of Mosul grants access to trade routes and oil fields. It has been under ISIS control since June 2014 and has become the militia’s headquarters East of Aleppo, Syria. According to The New York Times, there are as many as 4,500 ISIS militants in the city.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told a group of allied diplomats this week that the offensive is progressing sooner than expected, but resistance has been fierce on behalf of ISIS.
ISIS attacked the city of Kirkurk, south of Mosul, this week as a means of disrupting supply lines from the Kurdish-held city, according to Reuters. Kurdish and Iraqi forces have sustained numerous casualties, and a U.S. military member also died on Thursday, Oct. 20, from injuries sustained by a roadside bomb. The soldier’s military branch has not yet been released.
Along with suicide vehicles, ISIS has been using guerilla tactics, such as lining roads with IEDs, booby trapping bridges and structures, digging trenches and tunnels underneath the city and, according to a spokesperson for the United Nations (UN) Human Rights office, ISIS has taken 550 families from surrounding villages with the intent of using them as human shields.
While over 5,600 people have fled the city since the beginning of the campaign, the UN states that there are still millions trapped within its border, making it vulnerable to one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world.