Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Battle is Joined

Iraqi forces have captured both ends of the southern-most disabled bridges in Mosul and seem to be reaching a line of resistance as Iraqi forces punch into western Mosul.

Iraq has a bridge site withing Mosul:

Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State group in west Mosul reached the city's southernmost bridge Monday, a key step in efforts to defeat the jihadists in their stronghold, a spokesman said.

The move, a little more than a week into a major push on Mosul's west bank, could allow Iraqi forces to extend a floating bridge between the city's two halves and pile pressure on the jihadists.

The article says the Iraqis will erect a ribbon bridge (like this) to span the Tigris River.

But the Iraqis don't need the bridge site to do that. They just need control of two banks of the Tigris River. Indeed, I'd think the structure of the damaged bridge would interfere with a ribbon bridge.

If that is what is needed, the Iraqis could have bridged the river south of the city.

It makes more sense to me to span the gap in the damaged bridge. And if the bridge is too damaged for that, doesn't the damaged bridge get in the way of a ribbon bridge?

We'll see what the Iraqis do.

Meanwhile on the western edge of the city, Iraqi troops seem to have reached a line of resistance:

Iraqi forces advanced quickly in the early stages of the offensive to recapture Mosul's western half, retaking the airport and piercing Islamic State defenses around the city within days.

Now they are encountering tougher resistance as they push into residential districts where as many as 750,000 civilians are essentially trapped.

The story says that the Iraqi security forces are running into more foreign-born jihadis, who are more likely to fight to the death.

Does this mean they were saved for the battle in the west? Or does it mean that more Iraqi ISIL fighters are slipping away to escape?

UPDATE: New information this morning (I wrote this post yesterday, actually).

Units of the Iraqi 9th Armored Division have eyes on the last road out of Mosul in the northwest, which means they can interdict the route with direct fire:

The army's 9th Armored Division was within a kilometer of Mosul's Syria Gate, the city's northwestern entrance, a general from the unit told Reuters by telephone.

"We effectively control the road, it is in our sight," he said.

So ISIL is using more suicide vehicles--armored to resist Iraqi fire--now? I guess that means that all the streets aren't too narrow for vehicles. If ISIL can use vehicles, so can the Iraqi security forces.

Iraqi forces are still advancing:

"The provincial council and the governorate building are within the firing range of the Rapid Response forces," a media officer with the elite Interior Ministry units told Reuters, referring to within machinegun range or about 400 meters (1,300 feet).

Taking those buildings would help Iraqi forces attack the militants in the nearby old city center and would be of symbolic significance in terms of restoring state authority over the city.

U.S.-trained Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) units battled Islamic State sniper and mortar fire as they moved eastwards through Wadi al-Hajar district to link up with Rapid Response and Federal Police deployed by the riverside, in a move that would seal off all southern access to the city.

Resistance doesn't seem stiff. (I know, I'm at the blunt end of the computer and not at the pointy end of the stick--easy for me to say.) Have Iraqi force reached the ISIL main line of resistance?

And also from that article, Iraqi engineers are repairing that southern bridge rather than putting a new temporary bridge across the Tigris River:

Military engineers started repairing the city's southernmost bridge that Rapid Response captured on Monday.

Finally, if ISIL leadership is fleeing, resistance in western Mosul won't prove more difficult than the battle for the eastern bank of the city:

The commander of Iraq's Federal Police has said ISIS militants in western Mosul are looking to cut and run from their defense of the group's last remaining stronghold in the country.

Lt. Gen. Raid Shakir Jaudat said the militants were increasingly cut off from each other and that their leaders were fleeing the remaining pockets of militant control.

I'm reading mixed messages on whether the battle is tougher or harder than the earlier phase for the east.

It just doesn't seem harder to me at this point, overall. (Again, with all due respect to the forces pushing through that resistance.)

Absent leadership, that doesn't mean that the ISIL foreign fighters won't try to fight to the bitter end. But lack of leadership does mean that it is more of dying in place than successfully defending.

Note that the CNN map in that article doesn't show Iraqi gains. It's kind of worthless.

UPDATE: Iraqi forces operating near the river and further west in the Wadi Hajar district  continue efforts to link up:

Iraq's special forces pushed into the Wadi Hajar district in western Mosul and retook the area from the Islamic State group Friday, according to Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, spokesman of the Joint Military Operations.

Special forces Brig. Gen. Haider al-Obeidi said clearing operations were ongoing in the area and his forces were close to linking up with the militarized federal police forces who were pushing up along the western bank of the Tigris river.

This is the district:

Link up and the airport already captured is shielded from direct fire and observation, making it safer to use as a staging ground.