Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Unleash the Southwest Hounds!

We could have dropped every bridge over the Tigris River splitting Mosul on day one. We have not. Why not? Is the main Iraqi effort from the south and west to hit western Mosul about to begin?

We dropped another bridge in Mosul:

Five bridges span the Tigris that runs through Mosul. They have all been mined and boobytrapped by militants who took over the city two years ago as they swept through northern Iraq and declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Despite planting the mines, Islamic State fighters have so far been able to continue using those bridges which have not yet been destroyed by air strikes.

Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said on Tuesday an air strike hit the number four bridge, the southernmost, in the past 48 hours.

"This effort impedes Daesh's freedom of movement in Mosul. It inhibits their ability to resupply or reinforce their fighters throughout the city," he said using an Arabic acronym for the militant group.

A month ago, a U.S. air strike destroyed the No. 2 bridge in the center of the city and two weeks later another strike took out the No. 5 bridge to the north.

So we have knocked out 3 of 5 bridges: No. 4 at the south, no. 2 in the center, and no. 5 to the north of no. 2 (or does that mean the northernmost?)

If the main offensive was through eastern Mosul, we'd probably want to seize at least one bridge to continue the offensive across the river.

But we didn't drop all the bridges at once.

This month, I've speculated that the main Iraqi effort would be from the southwest into western Mosul on the west side of the Tigris River.

To do that, we'd want to get ISIL to commit forces to the eastern side of the river. Using the high profile Counter-Terrorism Service troops to spearhead the offensive as they've spearheaded other Iraqi offensives definitely gets the jihadis' attention.

So if ISIL thinks the east bank is the main front, they would funnel troops and car bombs into the east. Starting to knock out the bridges constricts the jihadis without preventing them from moving forces to the east bank.

We have not really seen the brigades we and our allies have trained in this offensive. I assume that many are in the southern front and that at some point, they will make a dramatic appearance.

So we could drop the remaining two bridges, interdict other river crossing attempts with air and artillery power, and then launch the main effort from the southwest with trained regular Iraqi army brigades, with the best ISIL troops trapped on the east side of the river unable to run or reinforce the western part of Mosul.

Early in the spring I speculated that with an objective as obvious as Mosul, gaining surprise is only possible by changing your expected timing or your expected route of advance.

We did not strike earlier than we could have. So that option was lost.

But we still could gain surprise by unleashing the main effort from the south and west while ISIL is focused on the CTS offensive on the west bank of Mosul.

Heck, we might yet see an airmobile element helicopter into positions to aid the southwest offensive, which is something we haven't seen since the 2014 CTS air assault on Tikrit, if memory serves me.

In 2014, the Iraqi CTS landed in a Tikrit stadium to use as an airhead.

Well what do you know? There is a big stadium on the west bank of Mosul. But where is the stadium? This map says the stadium is on the east bank more toward the northernmost bridge.

I guess a landing could be made elsewhere in the western part of Mosul at a large traffic circle or park if the stadium is not on the west bank. But pity, the initial description of the location sure fit nicely with past practice and my expectations.

Wait! As I look at satellite photos I see Al-Idara Al-Mahalia Stadium on the west side that is near the road to the center bridge. But that was dropped.

Still, I might be on to something.

So the bridge nearest to that west bank stadium--the one north of the southernmost bridge--was knocked out. But the one south of that, on the Al Jamhuriya Road, is standing and still pretty close to that stadium.

Could that bridge be left standing in order to seize it?

Arggh. This article says the only bridge still standing is the center bridge (the "old bridge")! Which is the bridge I initially thought could be the target if the landing was made at that west bank stadium!

For yucks, when we took the Remagen Ludendorff Bridge in World War II, it was the American 9th Armored Division that did the job. Iraq's 9th Armored Division is participating in the Mosul offensive.

Anyway, in this scenario, the Shia militias heading out to Tal Afar serves as much as a western flank guard for this new main effort rather than only an effort to keep jihadis from running from Mosul to live to fight another day.

Do this and ISIL fighters die with their backs to the Tigris River under assault from the east and west, and from the middle.

Which is nice, because the only good jihadi is a dead jihadi.

UPDATE: So yeah, there is just one bridge left standing. And this is an interesting statement:

The destruction of the bridges means that the Iraqi military and its allies — the Kurdish peshmerga forces and Sunni tribesmen — would have to use military pontoon bridges to cross the river when they arrive at the banks of the river.

Sure, the Iraqis might try to build bridges with enemies potentially on both banks to interfere with that operation.

But that assumes that the offensive has to cross the river to take the whole city.

If the southern front Iraqi forces--who seem to have been very, very quiet lately--are part of the plan to seize Mosul and not just bystanders for the CTS in eastern Mosul and PMF militias to the west by Tal Afar, these trained army brigades could be coiling up to thrust north into western Mosul from the south and west.

And we'll see if an airmobile assault is part of the mission to actually seize that final bridge left standing.

UPDATE: The last bridge standing inside Mosul is the "old bridge" that had been built by the British and which is unable to hold heavy traffic.

But so what if it can't hold heavy armor? If the main thrust to liberate the west bank of Mosul comes from the south and west rather than relying on a river assault with pontoon bridges being built, we only need a bridge capable of handling lighter traffic, no?

UPDATE: On November 15, Iraqi troops and federal police reached a village fewer than 2 miles from the Mosul airport south of the city on the west bank of the Tigris River:

Abbar [a member of the Nineveh municipal council] added that federal police forces and the army’s 15th division have become 3 kilometers away from the Mosul airport at the center of the city, having liberated the village of Bo Youssef.

That's from a Bahrain-based news organization. Otherwise news from sources I usually use have been unusually quiet. Which strikes me as odd.

Iraqi forces surely must be within range of striking the west bank of Mosul.

UPDATE: Hey, here's news from south of Mosul:

U.S. troops celebrated Thanksgiving at an Iraqi army base in Qayyara, some 60 km (38 miles) south of Mosul, where a U.S.-led coalition is helping Iraqi forces battle Islamic State.

Nothing to see. A feel good story about a touch of home. Just American troops eating dinner far from Mosul.

American troops at the logistics base we went to pains to set up to support the offensive into Mosul that has been very very quiet lately.

Yes, I'm looking for information to support my guess. Blogging is always a mess of what I'd do, what I think we will do, and what I think will happen.