Mosul: Winning the Battle and the WarFebruary 22, 2017
The Trump Administration has inherited a complex set of problems in Iraq. Most pressing among them is the ongoing campaign to recapture Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, from ISIS. The operation to liberate Mosul has met fierce resistance, but Iraqi forces – with coalition aid – control the eastern half of the city and have now begun their final assault on the last pocket of ISIS forces in the west. Helping those forces liberate the western half of Mosul is one of the first challenges that President Trump and his administration face in Iraq. However, perhaps more important will be the political race for influence in the city – and much of northern Iraq – by the region's power players. The Cipher Brief’s Fritz Lodge spoke with former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General Jack Keane, to see where the battle for Mosul stands, and what the Trump Administration will need to do to secure the city afterward.
The Cipher Brief: Where does the battle for Mosul currently stand?
Retired General Jack Keane: The battle for Mosul is in two primary phases. Phase 1, retaking the eastern part of the city, has been completed, although it took considerably longer than the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) thought it would and was much more costly in casualties as well. Phase 2 is beginning as we speak, to reclaim the western part of the city. The west is considerably more densely populated than the east so the fight to reclaim this part of the city will certainly be every bit as demanding as Phase 1. There will likely be even more casualties, and the battle will take weeks or possibly months to complete.
TCB: Do you have a sense of why the ISF were so wrong in their original assumptions about how difficult the battle would be?
JK: Well it largely depended on ISIS. ISIS did not defend in place in Ramadi and Fallujah. They put up initial resistance, withdrew their command-and-control unit, and then eventually withdrew the main body of their forces. In Mosul, ISIS command and control is still in place, and the main body of ISIS fighters is defending in place. That, in of itself, has made the battle significantly harder. Specifically, ISIS has also used human shields to their advantage in order to disarm the American air power advantage, and they’ve done that very successfully.