Iraqi security forces (ISF), backed up by the US-led coalition’s airpower, artillery units, and special forces troops, have been struggling to retake the Old City from ISIS terrorists in western Mosul. The highly urbanized Old City is the main ISIS stronghold in this part of Mosul and ISIS units resist ISF in a fierce attempt to keep this key area under its control.
On March 20th, ISF units launched another push in the direction of Mosul’s Grand Nuri al-Kabir Mosque where the ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the “Islamic Caliphate” in 2014. If ISF troops regain the Grand Nuri al-Kabir Mosque in western Mosul, they will achieve a big PR victory over the terrorists group. However, the situation in the area is very complicated.
Indeed, ISF hardly achieved any significant gains in the area within the last 7 days. Nevertheless, pro-ISF sources report that over 50 ISIS members were killed and up to 20 Suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIEDs) were destroyed in clashes in the old City of Mosul during the week.
On March 21st, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) announced that its units had reached the western gates of Mosul. Separately, the PMU repelled a large ISIS attack in the Badush Heights reportedly killing 78 ISIS fighters and destroying some 3 vehicles. The fact that Iraqi forces had divided the ISIS-held area between Tal Afar and western Mosul into two separate pockets became the most notable achievement made by anti-ISIS forces. Lack of gains was noted despite an intense usage of warplanes and heavy artillery. Some 415,000 civilians have fled the city since ISF launched the operation in October.
In turn, ISIS conducted a number of counter-attacks targeting government forces and against allies of government forces in Old Mosul and even in the southern neighborhoods of the city. The terrorist group frequently uses SVBIEDs. The total number of ISF casualties since March 15th is estimated to be between 200 and 300 fighters. ISIS releases videos of successful SVBIED attacks on a constant basis.
While there is little doubt that the encircled western part of Mosul will be liberated, the mainstream media narrative that the operation is close to its end and that the ISIS fighters are fleeing seems very questionable.