Liberation delayed: the battle for Mosul

Mosul Post Jan.8.jpg

After many false starts and lengthy delays, anti-Islamic State forces are deeply engaged in the fight for Mosul. Now the Iraqi Army, assorted militias, Kurdish Peshmerga and coalition allies must dislodge the hard-line jihadist fighters through difficult urban combat.

In the densely packed city, Islamic State snipers and infantry use tunnels to execute asymmetrical hit and run attacks. The city’s narrow streets make it difficult for armor to support advancing infantry units, but can conceal suicide car bombs until they reach their victims. Any alleyway, street, bridge or doorway could be rigged to explode.

Ground troops must push forward into this labyrinth. The constant stream of fleeing residents slows the advancing troops, making it difficult to avoid killing civilians while fighting.

The long road to Mosul began shortly after its capture in the summer of 2014, as the Iraqi Government and the KRG recovered from the Islamic State’s initial offensive.

An still off Mosul from and Islamic State media release Dec. 21
An Islamic State media release depicts a stretch of road around Mosul, reportedly published on Dec. 21, 2016.

Positioning begins

Back in January 2015, the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) advanced on Mosul. The move came amid rumors that the Iraqi Army and Sunni tribesmen would soon be making an attempt on the city.

Five thousand KRG troops pushed toward Mosul with the help of coalition airstrikes on Jan. 22, The Washington Post wrote. This action surrounded the Islamic State group on three sides and cut their supply line with Tal Afar. The next day, the KRG fired about 20 Grad rockets at targets in Mosul, Reuters wrote. This was reportedly the first time the KRG shelled Mosul since the Islamic State group took the city in June 2014.

On Feb. 8, 2015, U.S. envoy John Allen said Iraqi forces would start an offensive on the city in the coming weeks, AFP wrote. A Kurdish military analyst told Rudaw the taking of Mosul would require 30,000 troops. This offensive would likely be in June 2015, and the KRG forces would act as an auxiliary to the Iraqi Army, he added. The Islamic State group had made extensive defensive preparations in the form of trenches, IEDs and other traps, he told Rudaw. A 25,000 troop offensive on Mosul could begin as soon as April, CNN wrote citing anonymous U.S. sources.

Rumors circulated that Turkey may have a role in any Mosul offensive.

Fighting continued in the periphery of Mosul through the spring into summer, but word of major developments remained elusive.

Meanwhile in Anbar, an Islamic State attack launched on May 14 would overrun the city of Ramadi. The Iraqi Army fought long defensive battle against the Islamic State in the city. A coordinated attack with the use of numerous suicide vehicle bombs (VBIEDs) routed the defenders. In July, Baghdad and the U.S.-led coalition then turned their gaze west, seeking to stabilize Anbar before campaigning in Nineveh Province.

Keeping Ramadi: Part 1

In June, the head of Iraqi Army operations in Nineveh told Rudaw that Counter-terrorism forces and police units were massing for a push on Mosul. He said that 15,000 tribal fighters were available, along with Peshmerga, Counter-terrorism and police units. The capture of the city was touted to be before the end of Ramadan that year. In late November, U.S. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. expressed frustration  with the speed of operations in Iraqi, according to The New York Times.

The big push never came in 2015.

A Popular Mobilization Units promo vows to return churches to Mosul’s Christians. 

On Dec. 26, Lieutenant General Najim al-Jibouri said Iraqi troops stood ready for the Mosul offensive, and only waited on Baghdad’s nod, according to Rudaw.

Reports of fighting continued on the outskirts of Mosul into February.

U.S. Army Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland said the U.S. was prepared to deploy Apache helicopters in support of the Mosul operation, Reuters wrote  on Feb. 1. But MacFarland declined to comment on whether or not Mosul could be taken from the Islamic State group by the end of 2016. The next day, U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren reportedly told press that the battle to retake Mosul would be a long one, Rudaw wrote.

Troops mass in Makhmur

In early February, reports emerged of Iraqi government troop movements south of Mosul. Troops began massing at a base in Makhmur, an anonymous officer reportedly told AFP. The total number of soldiers would reach 4,500 and the operations’ goal would be to cut Mosul’s southern supply lines, the source said. More troops continued to arrive as the week wore on.

Peshmerga Ministry Chief of Staff Jabar Yawar reportedly told Rudaw the Iraqi army was not ready to begin a campaign against the Islamic State in Nineveh. Yawar noted that ISIS still controlled important areas in Anbar. Noting the Iraqi army buildup in Makhmur, Yawar said towns like Hawija, Rashad and Qayyara still needed to be cleared for the Iraqi army to take Mosul. Yawar said that the city could be liberated by the end of 2016. More optimistic, an Iraqi official said the time frame could be as soon as June 2016.

The coalition continued targeting ISIS banking infrastructure, Newsweek wrote on Feb. 15. Reports emerged of 80 to 100 Islamic State militants fleeing Mosul. Popular mobilization commanders near Fallujah  reported that 600 Islamic State fighters fled from Fallujah to Mosul, wrote Iraqi News on Feb. 27.

Military sources said the first move from Makhmur would be westward toward Qayyara, Reuters wrote. Nineveh Operations Commander Major General Najm al-Jubbouri put the number of Islamic State militants within Mosul at 6,000 to 8,000. Kurdish commander Polad Jangi told VOA he expected casualties on both sides would be “unbelievable.”

John Cantlie reports on a bombed ISIS media Kiosk in an Islamic State media release, March 19, 2016.

Popular Mobilization Units drone footage purports to show Islamic State militants fleeing from Samarra to Mosul — with civilians in tow as human shields. 

A company of U.S. marines established an artillery base called Fire Base Bell in northern Iraq, AP wrote. The base came under attack multiple times in March, Military Times wrote . The death of a Marine Staff Sgt. brought the existence of the fire base to public view, The Washington Post wrote. Defense officials insisted the base had been established for defensive operations.

-A potential time bomb at Mosul Dam

Built in ’80s, Mosul Dam is the largest of its kind in Iraq, and has always suffered from structural problems.

But when Islamic State militants seized Mosul Dam in August 2014, concerns arose over the maintenance of the dam. It required constant grouting to maintain its structural integrity, Reuters wrote. Even though the Islamic state only held the dam for two weeks, the interruption of the dam’s maintenance prompted fears of a catastrophic breach.

If breached, water behind the dam could flood the densely populated Tigris River valley, Reuters reported. About 500,000 to 1.5 million Iraqis reportedly live in the flood’s path.

Iraqi authorities signed a contract with Italian engineering firm Trevi Group to perform ongoing maintenance on the dam.

March for Qayyara

On March 24, security forces advanced on Qayyara from Makhmur. Reports indicated the force consisted of Sunni tribesmen, Popular Mobilization Units, Iraqi Army, Iraqi Federal Police with the Peshmerga paying a supporting role. Two hundred U.S. marines provided artillery support from Fire Base Bell, VOA wrote. By the end of the day, security forces had reportedly taken several villages between Makhmur and Qayyara.

A detachment of the Iraqi Army 15th brigade shelled ISIS positions around al-Khatab near Qayyara, Iraqi News wrote on March 26. Meanwhile northwest of Mosul, Peshmerga fighters shot down an ISIS surveillance drone near Keske Junction, ARA News wrote.

Mines and booby traps along the side of the road delayed the advance toward Qayyara, an anonymous commander told Reuters. They reportedly had been held up several days attempting to advance on al-Nasr.

Meanwhile north of Mosul, 1,500 Turkish-backed Sunni militiamen  called the Hashd al-Watani, or National Mobilization Force, also prepared for an offensive on Mosul, Rudaw  wrote.

Coalition airstrikes destroyed a Turkish consulate compound in Mosul that ISIS occupied. The Turkish government reportedly gave approval for the the strikes.

Iraqi Maj. Gen. Najm al-Jubouri said hospitals around Nineveh received more than 500 bodies of ISIS fighters from the campaign south of the city, Iraqi News wrote. KRG Interior Minister Karim Sinjari said Kurdish forces would not enter Mosul, ARA News wrote. However, the official added that the Peshmerga would take control of towns in Nineveh Plain formerly under Baghdad’s control.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the U.S. would send 200 more troops plus Apache helicopters to assist in the Mosul campaign. Kurdish anti-terrorism forces in cooperation with U.S. special forces conducted an air landing operation around Hamam al-Alil.

On April 18, troops of the Peshmerga and National Mobilization Force took Nawaran and Barima from ISIS northeast of Mosul, according to reports.

The same day, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Kurdish forces would receive $415 million as part of the push for Mosul, wrote. U.S. President Barack Obama told CBS he anticipated the stage to be set for the final battle for Mosul by the end of the year.

On April 27, security forces took Mahana, another village on the way to Qayyara. No Iraqi soldiers were reported killed in the advance by Nineveh Operations Command, Reuters wrote.

The Islamic State group began a crackdown on satellite dishes and outside news in Mosul, Reuters wrote on May 6. Some local Nineveh media had continued broadcasting through the ISIS occupation. Radio station Al-Ghad reportedly broadcast live on the airwaves, as well as Viber and WhatsApp.

Saraya Al-Salam official Kadim al-Eissawi said the Sadrist group would deploy 10,000 troops to the Mosul Operation, Iraqi News wrote.

Islamic State militants torched housing and land deeds and issued new documents to the owners, a Kurdish official told Rudaw. This raised fears that displaced residents — particularly minorities — could have a difficult time reclaiming their property.

Iraqi Maj. Gen. Jubouri said security forces took Kabrouk near Qayyara, Iraqi News wrote on May 10. Other media reported the success of Iraqi forces west of Makhmur. Coalition air power struck Haj Ali near Qayyara, Iraqi News wrote on May 14.

The National Defense Force attacked Kanune near Bashiqa , a Peshmerga Commander told Rudaw. The Sunni militia had not yet broken into the village, the source said. Pershmerga forces were not involved in the operation, the source said.

—Retaking Fallujah

Iraqi forces would storm Fallujah, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced. The assault would be conducted by police, tribal forces, Popular Mobilization Units, military and counter-terrorism forces, The Washington Post wrote . Abaidi reported great progress in the opening days of the operation, the Associated Press wrote.

—Humanitarian crisis

Reports of civilians arriving at Peshmerga lines continued.

On May 27, the United Nations refugee agency announced that more than 4,200 Iraqis had fled Mosul that month, Reuters wrote. The U.N. World Food Programme planned for the possible displacement of 700,00 during the campaign the capture Mosul, Reuters wrote.

—Battle’s scope grows

Peshmerga forces attacked Islamic State-held areas around the Khazir front east of Mosul, AFP wrote. The force took three villages in the operation’s first ten hours, according to the report. Peshmerga forces and coalition airstrikes reportedly destroyed five ISIS VBIEDs.

Five thousand troops reportedly took part in the offensive. It began at 4 a.m. and involved two columns working on eastern and western fronts of a group of abandoned villages, Rudaw wrote. The force of tanks, APCs and other armor encountered heavy mortar fire from ISIS positions, the report said.

A Reuters correspondent spotted coalition ground forces among the Peshmerga fighting in the Khazir operation. The troops reportedly spoke English, but Reuters could not determine their nationality. When asked, Colonel Steve Warren reportedly said that coalition troops were carrying out advise and assist help for the Peshmerga – adding that the troops could be American, Canadians or from another country.

On the second day of the offensive, Peshmerga forces captured the villages of Wardak, Kazakan, Tulaband and Kulabur, Rudaw wrote on May 30.

—Progress toward Qayyara

U.S. officials said the assault on Mosul would be delayed for logistics reasons, The New York Times wrote. Much Iraqi equipment was in need of replacement, and many troops required more training before taking on ISIS in Mosul, the report said. The U.S. would reportedly help Iraqi forces overhaul their maintenance and supply chains.

Over two days, 120,000 people showed up in Saladin Governorate after fleeing Mosul, Rudaw wrote on June 8. The province’s governor reportedly asked hotels and residences to offer room and board to the displaced, and for security procedures to be taken.

In the Qayyara-front south of Mosul, Islamic State militants attacked Iraqi security forces in the villages around Qayyara, Xinhua Agency wrote. Security and Sunni tribal forces withstood the attack, killing at least 45 Islamic State militants, according to a spokesman.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones and General Sean MacFarland, commander of coalition forces, met with KRG President Masoud Barzani on June 11, Rudaw wrote. Among other topics, they discussed preparations for the Mosul operation and the Pershmerga’s role, the report said.

The next day, security forces took Kharaib Jabr, a village adjacent to Haj Ali and objective on the road to Qayyara, Reuters wrote. Iraqi forces followed up by advancing on Haj Ali, Iraqi News wrote.

Defense Secretary Carter said Iraqi forces conducted a combat operation on the Mosul front with support from U.S. Apache helicopters, The Washington Post wrote.

Coalition air power struck an Islamic State group weapons store in Mosul, ARA News wrote. Jets also hit ISIS positions around Qayyara, the report said. These strikes reportedly came alongside continued fighting on the Peshmerga’s Khazir front.

The Iraqi Army took al-Nasr on June 14, The Washington Post wrote. Later reports would indicate the village still contested.

—ISIS crumbles in Fallujah

Meanwhile across Iraq, Prime Minister Abadi declared a preliminary victory in Fallujah, Reuters wrote. Several Fallujah neighborhoods had yet to be secured – but the battle had reached its final hours, The Washington Post reported.

Presidential envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk acknowledged “concerning reports” of troops abusing civilians early in the operation, VOA wrote. McGurk also said U.N. humanitarian groups were overwhelmed by civilians fleeing the city. However, other U.S. officials applauded Abidi for sending the correct messages about human rights abuses. Media like Asharq Al-Awsat published more critical views of Abidi’s tone and results.

In an interview with Al-Monitor months later, Fallujah operation commander Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi reflected on the successful aspects of city’s capture. The Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) ranked among the Iraqi government’s most effective troops in urban warfare – along with some local police units, al-Saadi told Al-Monitor. Iraqis — rather than Americans or Iranians — authored the battle plans for the storming of Fallujah, al-Saadi said. The commander acknowledged the role of U.S. air support.

Regarding complaints against the Popular Mobilization Units, al-Saadi acknowledged that civilians had been inadvertently killed as an inevitable consequence the battle, but said he did not witness anything amounting to human rights abuses.

Two battle groups converge toward Qayyarah

Alongside the quick victory in Fallujah, Iraqi federal and KRG forces launched a new push south of Mosul on June 18. Troops set out from front lines near Baiji in Saladin Governorate and would fight northward toward Qayyara. Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said the operation would make Qayyara a “launchpad” to push further north, AFP wrote.

On June 19, representatives of the coalition, KRG and Baghdad met to discuss the capture of Mosul from the Islamic State, ARA News wrote. The meetings involved both military and humanitarian planning, Rudaw wrote.

Baghdad officials visited the Makhmur base and reiterated their pledge to capture Mosul from the Islamic State militants before the end of 2016, Rudaw wrote. Two Peshmerga brigades would reportedly take part in the operation. The report said one million people were expected to flee Mosul when the operation begins.

About 43km (27 mi) southwest of Qayyara, the Saladin group took Telol al-Baj on June 29, Reuters wrote. The same day, the Makhmur group reportedly shelled Haj Ali in preparation for an advance on the Tigris riverbank. The two groups were expected to meet somewhere near Qayyara airbase, the report said.

Coalition airstrikes killed two Islamic State military commanders in Mosul on July 1, according to the Pentagon.

The Makhmur battle group continued their attempts to break into al-Nasr, Rudaw wrote. Anonymous Iraqi commanders said ISIS militants made a stand at al-Nasr because the village is of defensive importance to them, according to the report.

On July 5, the Makhmur battle group overran ISIS in the Haj Ali area, reaching the Tigris River, Reuters wrote. From there, the security forces would wait at the river bank for the Saladin group to advance further north toward Qayyarah air base, the report said.

Four days later, security forces entered Qayyara airbase from the south, finding that ISIS militants had fled, Reuters wrote. The troops consisted of regulars and special forces with coalition air cover. The Iraqi forces did not encounter much resistance due to coalition air bombardment and artillery rocket support, The Washington Post wrote, citing an anonymous Iraqi commander. Upon seizing the base, the troops began demining and clearing the area of IEDs, Kurdistan 24 reported.

Shortly after the capture of Qayyara airbase, U.S. Defense Secretary Carter announced that 560 more U.S. troops would deploy to Iraq in part to staff the airbase. The airbase has a 2 mile-long runway that can accommodate large cargo aircraft, Stars and Stripes wrote. The base would reportedly need some degree of restoration before a push on Mosul.

Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland said the base would be a headquarters for logistics, communication and command, The Washington Post wrote. Some American troops deployed to Qayyra airfield would be technical specialists who could aid in military engineering for an assault on Mosul — like bridge building, The New York Times reported.

On July 12, the Makhmur and Saladin battle groups met with the capture of Ajhala village, across the Tigris from Haj Ali.

A little over a week later, an Iraqi engineering battalion partnered with American combat engineers to construct a bridge between Haj Ali and Ajhala. The U.S. engineers observed the operation but did not participate in actually building the bridge, U.S. officials said. The bridge is 200 meters long and connects the 9th Iraqi Army Division on the west with the 15th Iraqi Army division to the east, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Meanwhile, Russian officials pledged aid to the Peshmerga for their campaign against ISIS, Rudaw wrote. KRG officials welcomed any aid that foreign nations could pledge for the Peshmerga’s mission against ISIS, the report said.

U.S. officials voiced optimism with the progress of battlefield developments.  Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Mosul would be “the next target,” VOA wrote on July 19. Islamic State militants encouraged civilians to fear Shia militiamen — and many did, National Defences Forces commander  Atheel al-Nujaifi told VOA. He advocated that Shia militias be kept out of the Mosul operation. A few days later, Shia Militia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq warned against Peshmerga participation in the Mosul operation, Rudaw reported.

Nujafi later predicted the Mosul operation would start in mid-September and carry through to November, Rudaw wrote.

U.S. officials said eight Iraqi and two Kurdish brigades would be required for the Mosul operation, according to VOA.  That would add up to 20,000 to 30,000 troops. There were concerns that all those troops may not be ready until late 2016, an anonymous military official reportedly said.

A few days later, Prime Minister Abadi said Mosul would be governed by a policy of decentralization once taken from the Islamic State group, Rudaw wrote. Human Rights Watch called for militias with records of abuses to be barred from the Mosul operation, Reuters wrote. Iraqi officials discussed the deployment of 4,500 troops to Makhmur, Rudaw wrote on Aug. 2.

Iraqi forces took more villages around Qayyara, including  Imam Gharbi and al-Mreir, Xinhua Agency wrote on Aug. 13.

Northeast of Qayarra, Kurdish forces launched an attack in the direction of Gwer , Reuters wrote. The operation reportedly reached Kanhash on the western side of Gwer, securing the bridge between the two towns. The bridge would need repairs before the Peshmerga could use it for access across the river, the report said.

On Aug. 23, the Iraqi special forces attacked Qayyara, AFP reported. Coalition air power aided the advance, as did anti-ISIS elements within the town, the report said. By the next day, the security forces broke into key positions in the center of town, AFP wrote. The report confirmed that the government troops involved were of the Counter-Terrorism Service.

After three days, the CTS troops captured the rest of Qayyara and engineers began clearing explosives, AFP reported.

Islamic State militants lit oil wells in the wake of their retreat, AP reported. About 9,000 residents remained in Qayyara through the battle, according to the report.

The victory coincided with the impeachment of Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi. The Iraqi parliament voted for his removal over charges of defense contract corruption. Obeidi denied the claims against him, insisting that he had been the victim of corrupt elements, The Washington Post reported.

-Political and humanitarian concerns

In the background, KRG and Bagdhad officials squabbled over the Mosul operation.

Aid organizations prepared for the influx of displayed people who would surely flee the Mosul battle. Estimates suggested that 1 million or more people might be displaced as a result of the fighting.

Troops prepare to enter Mosul proper

U.S. General Joseph Votel told press that a 2016 recapture of Mosul was feasible. This was the goal Prime Minister Abadi had set for the operation.

Cooperation continued between U.S. advisers and Peshmerga. U.S. forces provided artillery support and intelligence to Iraqi forces in the south of Mosul.

Iraqi troops began massing at Makhmur again, Rudaw wrote on Sept. 2. About 4,500 soldiers were slated to arrive at the base. ISIS brought in additional Arab and foreign fighters from Raqqah, Asharaq al-Awsat wrote, citing an anonymous Kurdish official.

French artillery and the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier would deploy to the region to aid in the Mosul campaign, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told press. About 400 U.S. troops arrived in Iraq sometime before Sept. 8 to begin preparing Qayyara airfield, according to reports. The Dutch government also renewed its support, which included training, ARA News wrote. The U.K. would provide bombing support, AP wrote.

Iraqi jets dropped leaflets over Mosul on Sept. 13 warning civilians to avoid ISIS positions, Iraqi News wrote. Islamic State militants banned possession of the leaflets upon penalty of capital punishment, the report said.

U.S. and Kurdish officials met on Sept. 15 to discuss the effort against ISIS and humanitarian aid for internally displaced people, according to reports. Some Christians in Nineveh petitioned for their own province, Rudaw wrote.

Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi and U.S. President Barack Obama would meet ahead of the imminent Mosul offensive, reports said. More planning would go on between the U.S., Baghdad and the KRG.

On Sept. 20, Iraqi security forces advanced on al-Shirqat, making their way through surrounding villages, Reuters reported. The force consisted of government troops, local police and Sunni tribesmen, reports said. Two days later, the security forces took the northern district of Shirqat, Reuters wrote.

On Sept. 25, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the Mosul offensive would begin on Oct. 19, Rudaw wrote. Later, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi told press that Baghdad would set the time of the Mosul operation, Rudaw wrote. He added that Turkey would not have a role in the operation.

Prime Minister Abidi asked KRG president Massoud Barzani to refrain from using the Mosul offensive as a land grab opportunity, Reuters wrote.

The Pentagon cautioned that ISIS would likely use chemical weapons in defense of Mosul, wrote.

U.S. and Iraqi officials announced 615 U.S. troops would deploy to Iraq for the Mosul operation. The troops would be deployed to Qayyara West air base and Ayn al-Asad air base. The troops would train and advise local forces, provide intelligence and help with logistics and maintenance, reports said.

On Sept. 30, the first French sorties began from Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier moored in the east Mediterranean, according to reports. About 150 French troops would man four Ceasar artillery systems around Qayyara, AP wrote.

U.S. troops along with Appache and Chinook helicopters arrived at Ayn al-Asad airbase, a Popular Mobilization commander told press on Oct. 1.

The Iraqi Army began constructing a camp near Mosul Dam, Rudaw reported. The army troops deployed to the camp appeared to all be Sunni Arabs, an anonymous Peshmerga officer told Rudaw. U.S. troops began working on a camp at Bashiqa Mountain, according to the report.

An outreach radio station began broadcasting out of Qayyara on Oct. 4, Reuters wrote. The station would communicate exit routes and other safety information to civilians, the report said.

While not mentioning a start time, Prime Minister Abadi announced the imminent commencement of the Mosul operation in a radio address on Oct. 4, AFP reported.

Twelve Iraqi brigades would participate in the coming offensive, according to a coalition official cited by on Oct. 5. Each brigade would be 800 to 1,600 troops, for a total of 9,600 to 19,200 Iraqi troops. The final group would graduate training in a couple of weeks, the report said.

The coalition issued a statement vowing to investigate a potential friendly fire incident where a jet destroyed a position of Sunni tribal fighters.

By Oct. 6, preparations for the assault were underway. Iraq received six portable bridges, more than 60 armored bulldozers and 350 Humvees from the U.S. for the operation, wrote. After the battle, a holding force of 35,000 to 45,000 police and Sunni tribal fighters would secure Nineveh province, a coalition training officer told press. Coalition air power also struck offices of al-Hisba — the group’s religious police, ARA News wrote. U.S. forces would also provide artillery support from Qayyara air base.

Islamic State militants made preparations of their own. The militants rigged the city extensively with explosives and took other defensive measures, anonymous residents told Reuters. ISIS fighters used tunnels throughout the city to move troops and equipment, officials said.

Zero Hour

On Oct. 16, aircraft dropped leaflets over the city warning civilians to avoid known Islamic State positions, Reuters wrote. Artillery bombarded eastern sections of the city, Al-Jazeera reported.

Early the next morning, the offensive began. Iraqi and Peshmerga forces moved in from the south and east, CNN reported. The Iraqi security forces began clearing Qaraqosh southeast of Mosul, the report said. Baghdad’s forces fought in the south and southeast — with the Peshmerga taking the eastern front, Reuters wrote.

On Oct. 20, the Peshmerga opened another front north of Mosul, setting out from Bashiqa, Narawan and Tel Iskuf, The New York Times wrote.

The same day, Iraqi special forces attacked Bartella, east of Mosul, AP wrote. Attack helicopters provided air-to-ground support, according to the report.

U.S. officials commended the cooperation between Iraqi and Kurdish forces, announcing that troops stood about 5 miles away from the city limits. Reports emerged of ISIS militants engaging in mass executions, The New York Times wrote.

—Tal Afar operation launched

On Oct. 29, the Popular Mobilization Units struck out to the west of Mosul in an offensive to surround the Islamic State-held city. Tal Afar would be the objective. Maintaining a solid perimeter from Qarraya air base to Tal Afar would seal off Mosul from the rest of the Islamic State group’s territory.

A PMU promo for the Tal Afar operation, uploaded Oct. 29.

—A breakthrough

On Monday, Oct. 31, Iraqi forces assaulted Mosul’s eastern neighborhoods. Troops of the Counter-Terrorism Service moved on the industrial district of Gogjali and reached the edge of Karama district, a CTS officer told Reuters. A Peshmerga source reported fighting in Aden district adjacent to Karama, Reuters wrote.

Army troops attacked in Judayda al-Mufti, BBC News wrote the next day. Peshmerga officer Nuraddin Tatarkhan reportedly told VOA that they expected ISIS to blow up all bridges into the city, and that the offensive would take two months maximum.

On Nov. 4, security forces launched another offensive within the city.

The attack began early in the morning with an artillery and mortars firing upon Aden, Tahrir and al-Quds districts, AP wrote.Following the advance of the special forces, the Iraqi Army’s Eighth Division moved into the district of Intisar. Armored vehicles drove through the desert to cut off the Tahrir and Zahara districts of eastern Mosul, AP wrote. Seven Islamic State VBIEDs came against the force, with two successfully detonating upon the Iraqi troops, AP wrote. This reportedly killed seven or more CTS troops and wounded three more.

Baghdad and the Turkish government continued to argue about Turkey’s involvement in the Mosul Battle, Al-Jazeera wrote. Prime Minister Abadi reportedly said any Turkish participation would violate Iraq’s sovereignty.

An ISIS media releases showcase the group’s defenses in Mosul, dated Nov. 5 and Nov. 6, 2016

While Peshmerga forces continued their push on Bashiqa, reports emerged of a mass grave containing 100 mostly skeletal remains in Hamam al-Alil, south of Mosul. A U.N. official told press that the grave may be connected to a report of the execution of former Iraqi police officers by Islamic State militants.

An unforgiving battleground

All this time, ground troops had been forced to endure the harsh environment of urban warfare. Mosul boasted a population of over 1 million residents before its capture by Islamic State militants in 2014. The masses of homes, buildings, civil infrastructure and rubble create a deadly maze for attacking troops to navigate if they wish to push ISIS from the city.

Fighting Islamic State militants in urban combat had a negative impact on troops’ morale, an anonymous officer of the Iraqi Ninth Armored Division told Reuters. Islamic state militants made use of tunnels, snipers, VBIEDs and traps to kill Iraqi troops, disable armor and slow the advance, the officer said.

Security forces struggled to identify Islamic State militants among fleeing civilians, the officer said. This gave ISIS fighters opportunities to close in on security forces before detonating a bomb.

As of Nov. 10, Iraqi troops fully held only two districts in eastern Mosul — with all others remaining hotly contested, military adviser Hisham al-Hashemi said.

The Islamic State reportedly organized fighters into units of ~50 men, containing assault troopers, snipers, suicide bombers, infiltrators, logisticians and mortar specialists, al-Hashemi said. These units would take turns harassing security forces — keeping them constantly engaged. The militants had dug 70km (45 miles) of tunnels on the eastern part of the city alone, al-Hasemi said.

Iraqi officers expected a group of French-speaking foreign jihadists to fight to the death in key positions in the city core, al-Hashemi said.

The narrow streets prevented Iraqi armor from moving with and supporting the infantry, the officer told Reuters. The Iraqi Army requested U.S. attack helicopter support to help deal with suicide car bombs, U.S. officials confirmed.

Islamic State officials clamped down on residents within the city — including the monitoring of SIM cards. The group executed civilians accused of disloyalty in a number of incidents reported around the city as Iraqi security forces moved in.

Security forces used walkie-talkies captured from Islamic State personnel to intercept the group’s communications, — particularly the locations of suicide car bombs, AFP reported.

On Nov. 11, Iraqi forces entered Qadisiyah neighborhood in the north of Mosul, AP reported. Fighting also occurred in the adjacent neighborhood of Arbajiya, the report said.

The forces on Mosul’s northern access set their sights on the first district within city limits: Hadba. On the other side of the battlefield, Iraqi forces approached the heavily fortified Mosul airport.

As Iraqi troops spent more time in the contested areas, human rights groups began to report abuses perpetuated upon civilians and alleged Islamic State militants, The Los Angeles Times wrote on Nov. 16.

Officers declared Tal Affar airbase captured from ISIS, CNN wrote. The proximity of federally-aligned troops to key Islamic State supply lines pressured the group’s logistic operation, Al-Jazeera wrote.

On Nov. 18, CTS troops pushed into Mosul’s Tahrir district, Reuters wrote. Coalition airpower stuck a Mosul bridge across the Tigris river, U.S. officials told press. This would be the third such bridge struck by the coalition since ISIS took Mosul, Reuters wrote. Days later, Iraqi troops besieged Zohour district, CBS News wrote.

Army and police forces prepared to capture Tal Afar from ISIS, Reuters wrote on Nov. 25. The Tal Afar operation had been carried out largely by the Popular Mobilization Units, which are mostly Shia, Reuters wrote. The troops that would reportedly storm the town would be Sunni and Shia turkmen, to reflect the town’s demographics.

Nov. 30 Islamic State
A fighter fires around a corner in Mosul’s Intisar district in an Islamic State media release, reportedly published on Nov. 30, 2016.

A report issued by the United Nations showed about 2,000 security forces died in the first six weeks of the Mosul battle, AFP wrote. These figures included pro-government paramilitaries, interior ministry forces, peshmerga, police in combat federal army troops. Islamic State militants deployed 632 vehicle bombs during that same period of time, wrote The Washington Post, citing Iraqi officials.

Islamic State militants counterattacked both within Mosul and outside of Tal Afar, CBS News wrote. Fighting continued in Mosul’s eastern districts.

Army units attacked Islamic State fighters at Salam Hospital on Dec. 6, Reuters wrote. The gains came in part to a reorganization of the Iraqi Army’s tactics, an officer told Reuters. This position would put anti-ISIS troops about 1.5 km (.93 miles) from the Tigirs River.

But Islamic State militants counterattacked. They surrounded some Iraqi Soldiers and detonating a suicide bomber upon their position — killing 20, Reuters wrote. The troops would receive six suicide car bombs and heavy enemy fire before retreating from the position, Reuters wrote. After ISIS began firing upon Iraqi troops, coalition air power struck the hospital at the request of Iraqi ground forces, AP wrote, citing coalition spokesman Col. John Dorrian.

Following the setback, about 4,000 federal police moved to near Qaraqosh, Reuters wrote, citing a federal police commander. CTS forces announced the capture of al-Nur neighborhood, the report said. Islamic State militants continued contesting neighborhoods in eastern Mosul.

After 65 days of sustained fighting, the Iraqi Security Forces halted to refit and resupply, Reuters wrote on Dec. 21, citing a U.S. officer. The offensive would resume once the troops could resupply ammunition, repair vehicles and otherwise prep for the next part of the battle, the report said.

On. Dec. 29, the offensive resumed. Security forces advanced in the north, south and east axes, Reuters wrote. Islamic State militants employed a small drone to drop explosives behind the security forces’ front lines, AFP wrote.

Elite Iraqi unites continued to fight in Intisar district in the southeast, while other troops attacked toward Mosul’s northern edge, Reuters wrote. Coordination among security forces had improved, leading to better results, Reuters wrote, citing U.S. Army Lieutenant-General Steve Townsend.

Despite numerous predictions, New Years Day came and went with the battle for Mosul raging in the background.

On Jan. 6, 2017, security forces breached Mosul’s northern edge for the first time, Reuters wrote. The troops attacked at night, entering the Hadba apartments, but Reuters could not verify how much territory they had taken.

The next day, CTS forces attacked Wahda district and retook Salam Hospital, Reuters wrote, citing military statements. Meanwhile, Ankara and Baghdad discussed the withdrawl of Turkish troops from Bashiqa, according to the report.

On. Jan. 8, CTS troops reached the eastern bank of the Tigris River, Reuters wrote. The troops reached the eastern edge of Mosul’s Fourth Bridge, AFP reported. They continued to fight for districts in the city’s eastern half into the next day, Reuters wrote.

All of western Mosul must still be cleared of Islamic State militants. Despite the numerous difficulties and setbacks of the past two years, anti-ISIS forces have the momentum. But there is still a lot of fighting yet to do.