Saturday, April 8, 2017

High civilian death toll leads to new tactics in Mosul offensive

Military officials say that Iraqi forces supported by US special forces and air attacks were set to deploy new tactics after their advance into old Mosul was slowed.

The Iraqi military is considering opening up another front and isolating the Old City where the Islamic State(IS) militants are putting up a fierce defense, according to a U.S. deputy commanding general of the American-led coalition. The U.S.-backed offensive on Mosul is now in its sixth month. East Mosul has already been retaken while about half of the west part of the city has also been recaptured.
The toll on civilians has been heavy. Families are streaming out of Mosul by the thousands each day to stay in cold crowded camps or with relatives. Advances have been slowed in recent fighting as the battle enters the Old City full of narrow alleys that military vehicles cannot navigate. The IS fighters are using snipers, car bombs, and mortar fire to stem the advance of the Iraqis. They are firing from crowded residential areas.
U.S. Army Brigadier General John RIchardson, a deputy commanding general in the US-led coalition, claimed that a change of tactics might be the solution saying: "They (Iraqi forces) are looking at opening another front to force ISIS to fight on two directions and isolate the Old City, so when it is time to go into the old city, potentially they surrender." Richardson said that the Iraqi army could move in units from the north while other brigades build up positions around the Old CIty forcing the Islamic State to fight on two fronts. Richardson claimed that the IS did not have the capacity to do so effectively.
Iraqi Brigadier General Yahya Rasool said on TV: "In the next few days we will surprise Daesh terrorists by targeting and eliminating them using new plans." IS fighters have been stationing themselves in residential houses and firing at Iraqi troops often drawing air or artillery strikes that have killed many civilians. Residents fleeing the city said that the IS was in some cases shooting at fleeing residents. They said there was no running water or electricity and there was no food coming into the city. As many as 600,000 citizens are thought to still be in the Old City area of Mosul.
An article in the Los Angeles Times claims that more than 200 civilians were killed in U.S. air strikes on Mosul. The article presents a number of accounts by individuals who experienced the devastation caused by the strikes'. The U.S. military has finally acknowledged that it launched an airstrike in which residents said more than 100 people were killed. The task-force leading the coalition said in a statement: “An initial review of strike data … indicates that, at the request of the Iraqi security forces, the Coalition struck ISIS fighters and equipment, March 17, in west Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties." Previously coalition officials claimed they were unsure whether they had targeted the affected site in Mosul. So far local officials said they had pulled at least 60 bodies from just one destroyed buildings.
Airwars, a U.K.-based monitoring organization has raised questions about the surge in civilian deaths in the Mosul campaign in recent weeks. Some wonder if the new Trump administration is carrying out a more aggressive air campaign against the Islamic State than the previous Obama administration. Trump promised he would fight the IS more aggressively. The U.S.-led coalition has said its goal was "zero civilian casualties". Given the conditions of the bombing and the results so far, such a goal is not achievable and there is no attempt to achieve it. A coalition statement said: “But the coalition will not abandon our commitment to our Iraqi partners because of ISIS’s inhuman tactics terrorizing civilians, using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals, religious sites and civilian neighborhoods". In other words we will attack hospitals, innocent civilians in houses with snipers, religious sites and civilian neighbourhoods but this is all the fault of the IS who do not fight as they ought in places where there will be no collateral damage. The situation is in many respects like that of the Russian and Assad attacks in Aleppo but the reaction appears to be much less strident against the bombings as suggested on the accompanying video.

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