MOSUL, Iraq, Oct. 18 (UPI) — Coalition forces in Iraq are slowly and steadily marching toward the contested northern city of Mosul, but pockets of armed resistance from militant insurgents along the way suggest it will be a protracted fight, at least according to military strategists.
Iraqi government, Kurdish, Peshmerga and other forces, some of whom are trained by the Pentagon, have been gearing up for the Mosul Offensive for weeks to take back the town from the Islamic State terror group. Monday marked the start of the campaign, which by all accounts might take a while.
Coalition forces were forced to slow down a bit Tuesday to fight militants in villages east of Mosul.
The Iraqi army’s 9th Division stormed the nearby Hamdaniya district and approached the town of Qaraqosh, commanders said.
Nearly 100,000 coalition troops and American air support are involved in the effort to take Mosul from the Islamic State, which has ruled the city for two years. It’s the group’s last major stronghold inside Iraq.
It’s unclear how long the fight for Mosul may last, but one commander told CNN Tuesday that the troops may be looking at mid-December, at the soonest.
“My expectation is two months for the fight inside Mosul,” Peshmerga general Sirwan Barzani said, noting that Iraq’s desert weather is also expected to play a role in the timeline.
One of the complicating factors will be once forces arrive in Mosul, only government soldiers and national police officers will be allowed to enter — for fear of sectarian retaliation, CNN’s report said.
Turkish troops are also involved in the coalition’s effort to win back Mosul, although it’s unclear how big a role President Recep Erdogan‘s forces will play in the offensive — particularly considering ongoing tensions between Ankara and Baghdad.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Tuesday his military has agreed “in principle” to be part of the fight and will provide support when necessary.
Monday, the U.S. Department of Defense asserted that coalition forces are “ahead of schedule” in the plan to retake Mosul from the Islamic State, also known as Daesh and the acronyms ISIS and ISIL.
“Iraqi forces have met their objectives so far and that they are ahead of schedule for this first day,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said. “But again, it’s early and the enemy gets a vote here. We will see whether ISIL stands and fights.”
Several coalition troops were killed, however, by militant attacks Monday, which purportedly included a dozen suicide attacks. A Pentagon spokesman also said the terror group is refusing to allow any civilians to leave Mosul, and in some cases is using them to hide behind during the battle.
“We know they are being used as human shields, absolutely,” U.S. Navy Capt. and Defense spokesman Jeff Davis said. “They are being held there against their will. We have not seen any change in the last day of people leaving or fleeing.”
The long-term outlook for Mosul remains unclear, even if the 94,000 coalition troops succeed in capturing Iraq’s second-largest city. Sectarian squabbles that have persisted for centuries among Iraq’s diverse population still exist, and many have agreed to put their differences aside to fight the terrorists’ rule. What happens after the offensive, if that objective is met, is anyone’s guess.
During a news conference Monday, President Barack Obama exuded confidence that the Mosul Offensive will be successful and said the Islamic State’s defeat there will be another step “in their ultimate destruction.”
Tuesday, the president said the safety of civilians and relief supplies for the approximately 1 million civilians still living in Mosul are the top priorities.