Marine Corps General and Chairman to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford spoke to reporters while flying home from Iraq about the ongoing effort to root ISIS out of the Arab nation, and the tragic events of March 17th, 2017 that left as many as a hundred civilians dead.
According to the general, Iraqi Security Forces, and in particular, their elite counterterrorism service, have made “tremendous” progress in the fight against the Islamic State in Mosul, and that they will continue to learn and adjust in the face of their opponent.
The general made it clear that the fight in Western Mosul is quite different from that experienced by Iraqi forces in the Eastern portions of the city, and that they will continue to need to learn and adapt to keep the pressure on the terrorist organization. He also explained that, although the investigation is pending, it’s important that the Iraqi military and coalition learn from March 17th’s air strike and the damage that seems to have resulted from the detonation of an ISIS car bomb located nearby.
“West Mosul is much more crowded,” Dunford said. “It appears that ISIS is herding civilians into buildings and so forth and using them as human shields. Knowing that, Iraqis are looking at making modifications in current operations to mitigate the risk of civilian casualties and allow them to continue to make progress against ISIS.”
West Mosul is the older portion of the city and contains narrow streets and far fewer open areas than the parts of the city to the East. Approximately 600,000 Iraqi civilians live in the ISIS controlled region of Western Mosul.
According to reports from the Iraqi military, the streets are too narrow for most armored vehicles, forcing them to traverse the city on foot. Residences and commercial buildings throughout West Mosul are believed to be laced with improvised explosives, and ISIS’ knack for vehicle-borne bombs will pose a significant threat to Iraqi Security Forces tasked with fighting in the streets. Modified, store-bought drones will also pose a serious hazard for American backed troops on the ground, as there will be little space to attempt to evade and seek cover from explosives dropped from above. Civilians are also reportedly being herded into structures around militants in an effort to prevent coalition air strikes from providing support.
Although there remains a significant fight ahead in Western Mosul, General Dunford was careful to clarify that winning Mosul will not signify victory in Iraq.
“There is a lot of fighting left to go – Hawija, Tal Afar, Euphrates River valley,” he said.
He went on to emphasize the importance of protecting the civilians trapped amidst the fighting, claiming that it was the focus of discussions he had with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani and Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the commander of Operation Inherent Resolve during this most recent trip. The intent of the talks, according to Dunford, was to find better ways to protect Iraqi civilians, and to ensure the United Nations was able to establish camps intended to help those who wish to leave the region.
Dunford concluded the questioning by addressing questions about American forces assisting in the coalition offensive.
“They are doing what they came into the Army to do,” he said. “U.S. morale is high because they see the Iraqis succeeding and they see success in the strategy.”
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense