Iraqi army units surged toward the center of Mosul on Tuesday in an attack from the city's southeastern edges that could give fresh impetus to the seven-week-old battle for Islamic State's Iraqi stronghold.
This advance was by units of the Iraqi 9th Armored Division, which is apparently aiming for the southern-most bridge (the Fourth Bridge, which is disabled).
The center bridge is still standing:
The last and oldest bridge, built in the 1930s, was targeted on Monday night, two residents said. The structure was not destroyed, but the air strikes made two large craters in the approach roads on both sides.
It is interesting that the approach roads were struck, keeping the bridge passable after ISIL filled the holes. It's almost as if we didn't really try to disable the bridge in order to encourage the jihadis to think they have foiled our plan to prevent ISIL from reinforcing the east bank of Mosul in the face of the well-publicized attacks by the Counter-Terrorism Service and elements of 9th Armored Division.
That leads to an interesting result:
"The quality of the enemy we are facing now is markedly declined from a month ago," said Brigadier General Scott Efflandt, a coalition deputy commander.
"What they were saving for the west side of the river they are now committing to the east."
The most committed jihadis were on the eastern front. They suffered heavy losses, it seems. And with the most visible fraction of the 100,000-strong Iraqi force advancing in the east, ISIL is using the still-open bridge to commit more troops--not as good as the initial defenders, it seems--to that active front.
Which means that if the plan is to strike ISIL from the southwest, the center bridge could be disabled or more firmly isolated with cratering air attacks on the road, meaning the ISIL defenders on the east bank will be trapped and under assault by the Counter-Terrorism Service and elements of 9th Armored Division, just as the main Iraqi army attack against west Mosul comes in from the southwest.
That's what I'd do if I was Lord of the Offensive, anyway.
And if this isn't what we are doing, where are all the Iraqi brigades that the Coalition trained for the last two years?
UPDATE: the west side of Mosul was shelled by Iraqi forces:
Western-backed Iraqi forces have begun shelling parts of west Mosul, residents said, in preparation for a new front against Islamic State seven weeks into a difficult campaign to drive the militants from the city.
One witness reported 10 mortar rounds landing. So maybe the Iraqis were just firing ranging rounds.
UPDATE: Bernard-Henri Levy worries that the offensive in eastern Mosul is bogging down:
Yet ISIS hangs on. Is it because it concentrated its most seasoned personnel in Mosul proper? Is it because the remaining fighters have their backs to the wall and battle here with furious desperation? Or is it that the coalition—with the cold weather setting in, with the rain and low, cloudy skies interfering with airstrikes—is getting weary?
If I was Lord of the Offensive, this lull would be a sign that I was preparing the eastern front Iraqi forces to pounce on ISIL defenders when the southwest offensive kicks off in order to keep them pinned in place and kill them while they try to move--perhaps in a panic--to the west bank of Mosul.
UPDATE: Interesting points from a recent briefing on operations against ISIL:
We've already seen that some of their fighters unfortunately were seeing younger fighters; perhaps adolescent age, rather than adults. That's unconscionable on their part, but it is a long list of things that they do that are unconscionable.
We've also seen their vehicle borne improvised explosive devices don't have the exotic level of machining that we've seen in previous iterations -- a lot of the ones have been used before. So we've even seen the use just regular vehicles rather than the up armored versions that are much more difficult to stop.
These observations indicate that the first-line fighters and equipment are depleted.
I would say many hundreds of fighters are gone. We don't release -- we don't release casualty statistics and we don't consider them a measure of merit, but I can tell you that the enemy is taking very significant casualties, as difficult as they are making it for the Iraqi security forces.
I can assure you that their fighters are being expended at a much faster rate than -- than are the Iraqis. It's still very, very dangerous fighting, it's very, very difficult, but, you know, eventually we're going reach critical mass where the enemy is going to begin to break and then things will start to accelerate.
With reports of heavy Iraqi casualties, this puts that in context by saying the enemy is suffering casualties at a "much faster rate." Which is a problem for the heavily outnumbered ISIL defenders.
Well, I think it'd be very difficult to predict with any accuracy, exactly what awaits in western Mosul. What we've actually seen is that ISIL has done a tremendous amount to try to bring fighters across and confront the Iraqi security forces, particularly the CTS in the eastern part of the city. They've done that throughout the campaign, until they were disrupted from doing so by the strikes on the bridges that would enable that.
So, we'll have to wait and see. We don't want to get into the business of prognosticating on things where we don't have a tremendous amount of fidelity or detail. But, I doubt that there's a lot of people sitting there cooling their heels in western Mosul, while the predominant force that they have is being destroyed in eastern Mosul.
This is relevant to the breaking of ISIL and the acceleration of their defeat that the briefer expects.
When ISIL could have conducted a delaying action in eastern Mosul to inflict casualties on the Iraqis while retreating to the river line and blowing the bridges themselves, ISIL fed their best troops and car bombs into a losing battle on the east bank.
I continue to think that the high-profile Iraqi attack into eastern Mosul, combined with the attacks on bridges across the Tigris River, are meant to kill jihadis and weaken the potentially stronger western Mosul, and is setting up the main Iraqi blow to hit western Mosul from the southwest.
UPDATE: On Saturday I read this:
Iraqi commanders have talked about relieving pressure on CTS troops in the east by opening a new front in southwest Mosul, where federal police units are stationed just outside the city.
However, officers say three brigades from the police forces were being moved from south of Mosul towards the east bank, so they could directly reinforce the offensive there. [emphasis added]
However, I wouldn't have police brigades leading the assault.
Remember, the southern prong of Iraqi forces that could strike from the southwest is where America has committed actual combat units of artillery and helicopter gunships.
If the Iraqi army isn't going to send in Coalition-trained army brigades into western Mosul with these American units in support, why did we bother to send them at all?
And police units in eastern Mosul would serve to control the parts of the city already taken while freeing up the CTS and tank units responsible for advancing and securing their rear areas in the city.