By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
On February 18th the reports had already begun that the Iraqi army intended to launch the long-awaited offensive to take Western Mosul, which is often called the “right bank”. After four months taking and clearing Eastern Mosul, street-by-street, the army has taken the first weeks of February moving its forces across the Tigris river and positioning itself for the assault.
It has allowed its special forces (ICTF) to recuperate after months of battle and heavy casualties. It has learned from some troubles it faced in Eastern Mosul, such as the expertise ISIS had in using snipers, mortars and suicide vehicles against the army.
As the Iraqi army prepared it’s units for the final battle to destroy ISIS in its Iraqi stronghold, the one where Baghdadi declared the “caliphate” in 2014 and the center of the horrors and slave trade of Yazidis by ISIS in 2014 (that continues today), the Islamic State launched an attack on Hashd al-Sha’abi (PMU) forces near Tal Afar, supposedly trying to open a supply line to the west. The numerous vehicles they used were destroyed and many fighters (dozens perhaps) killed (@pmu_english).
ISIS is surrounded in Western Mosul but it has thousands of fighters and it’s men have showed an ability to fortify houses and shift resources from place to place, popping up behind, amid and on the flanks of Iraqi army vehicles. The Iraqi army learned from these tactics in the extensive battles for Mosul, especially after the troubles they faced in Aden neighborhood. See recent reporting by Jonathan Spyer.
Here are the initial reports coming in from the West Mosul offensive:
Chinua News: UN warns of humanitarian catastrophe, some 400,000 may be forced to flee fighting.
Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Dorrian said “ISIS is going to be crushed in west
#Mosul. It is going to be finished!”
140,000 children are “suffering hunger and cold” in West Mosul under ISIS control – Mina Al-Oraibi
Al-Jazeera says success of Mosul offensive and Iraq army proves how Iraq united is better than Iraq divided.
Leaflets have been dropped on Mosul to warn residents (February 18th at night)
West Mosul residents forced to spy for ISIS – NYT
An attack on ISIS trenches has begun (Feb. 18)
“West Mosul battle could take 3 months,” says a British special forces commander. – Rudaw
“Offensive will begin in the morning,” -Nicolas Henin (Feb. 18)
Leaflets dropped to the 650,000 residents read: “Get ready to welcome the sons of your armed forces and to cooperate with them, as your brothers on the left side have done, in order to reduce losses and speed up the conclusion.” – Reuters
“The coalition was able to determine through intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts that ISIS did not use the building for any medical purposes and that civilians were no longer accessing the site.” -CJTF:OIR, a command center was destroyed.
Maher Chmaytelli reports that Iraq’s Defense Ministry says troops are on the march (Feb. 18)
A suggestion box found in liberated Mosul has English, Russian and Arabic on it.
ISIS “targets civilians” as offensive begins.
Brett McGurk meets with Iraqis and discusses Mosul offensive.
A twitter account related to the Federal Police (@police_ir) provided ostensibly up to the minute details as the offensive began on February 19, claiming a “sudden collapse” of ISIS defensive positions and announcing an advance along three sectors towards Mosul, Mosul Airport and Albu Saif (Abu Saif) village near the airport. (البوسيف)
Artillery was in action and the federal police and other Iraqi units were reported to have advanced on the village of Agnitrah (A-Knitreh) which is along the train line that leads toward Mosul airport. The village of Lazagah, at the extreme end of the ISIS line was also under attack. To the West along the Mosul-Baghdad road, the village of Azba and Bakhira were reported taken (maps at ISIS Live Map had already shown them in Iraq’s hands).
Under the hashtag: #دقت_ساعه_الايمن and others, images of the battle, including tanks, lines of humvees and artillery, were posted.
The major effort to liberate Western Mosul seems to be undertaken by interior ministry and federal police forces, in addition to the Emergency Response Division. Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi announced; “”We announce the start of a new phase in the operation. We are coming to Nineveh to liberate the western side of Mosul,” Abadi said in on television. “Our forces are beginning the liberation of the citizens from the terror of Daesh [ISIL].”
A team of volunteer medics called NYC Medics was reported to be aiding casualties. Photos showed them in the same position alongside Quentin Sommerville of BBC who was embedded with Iraqi troops in hills overlooking the fighting.
According to Majd Holbi the Iraqi army units made significant progress on the first day of the offensive, capturing Lazakah village and taking the electric generating station next to it which controls electricity to Mosul city. The road from Baghdad to Hamam al-Alil was taken while elements of the Federal police began the assault on Albu Saif. 9th division troops Holbi says liberated 5 villages while a group called “Abbas” next to them took two villages and reached “al-Sahaji hill”.
Video and images from @police_iq showed the extent of the armor employed for the offensive, including dozens of humvees and US -made tanks as well as helicopter and artillery support. A TOS mobile multiple-rocket launcher was also employed, probably the same unit that I photographed near Bakhdida in 2016. Artillery was in action against Albu Saif.
Quentin Sommerville of the BBC, with the federal police ERD reported an ISIS drone attack, and posted numerous images of the advance along the Tigris toward Albu Saif. IEDs slowed progress and the army brought up katyushas on a truck to strike at ISIS. Coalition airstrikes around noon time hit Albu Saif. He said there was “no civilians at all” in villages they had taken.