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Battle for Mosul - 2015

The Islamic State (IS) has held the northern Iraq city of Mosul since June 2014. Planning for the recapture of this strategic city from the Islamic State started almost immediately; but a re-training of selected units of the Iraqi Army had to take place first. It appears that there will be a government push to recapture Mosul in the spring of 2015. This offensive will be spearheaded by units of the Iraqi SOF joined by Iraqi Army brigades, Kurd units, and Shia militia groups.

Mosul. The city is the de facto capital of IS in Iraq and it is the countries second largest city. It was home to over one million people prior to its capture by ISIS. Mosul had a mostly Sunni-Arab majority with significant Assyrian-Christian, Iraqi Turkmen, and Kurdish minorities. Only Sunni Arabs remain in the city since its capture by ISIS fighters.

Strength of IS in Mosul. There are varying estimates of the number of Islamic State fighters in Mosul. Some accounts say 2,000 while others say 3,000. Of course, prior to an attack on Mosul by government forces the numbers could rapidly swell with IS reinforcements.

Government Plans for Attack. It is estimated that between 20,000 to 25,000 troops (Iraqi army, Shia militias, and Kurd units) will take part in the spring 2015 Mosul offensive. The attacking force will likely be supported by U.S. and other Coalition airstrikes.

Attacking Government Forces. Press reports indicate that the attacking force will consist of five brigades (2,000 men each), three additional reserve units, three Kurdish Peshmerga units, and elements of the Iraqi SOF unit. In addition, a "Mosul fighting force" comprising mostly former police will take part. 1.

Timing of the Attack. Spring is the preferred period to launch the attack on Mosul. The weather is not as cold as the winter yet not as hot as the summer. Ramadan will take place from mid-June through mid-July - not a preferred time for fighting battles in Muslim countries. In addition, some observers (but not all) believe the Iraqi army will be better prepared as a result of reorganization and training provided by the U.S. and its Coalition allies. It appears, however, the timing of the attack was a CENTCOM idea - not an Iraqi idea. Recent press releases indicate that CENTCOM is backing away from a spring attack. 2.

Mosul Liberation Battalion. This militia group, reportedly a new group of volunteers from the region, will be taking part in the retaking of Mosul. What is uncertain is if any of the leaders of this battalion has any credibility with the people of Mosul.

Post-Attack Plans. There is some concern among observers about the post-attack plans. If the retaking of Mosul is successful then who will occupy the city, provide security, and institute governance? This is a classic example of "clear, hold, and build" where the "hold" and "build" part may not be sufficiently planned for. Is there a police force ready to take to the streets to prevent looting and crime? Is there a "government in a box" ready to move into the municipal officers to provide administration? Are there any credible Sunni Arab leaders included in these plans? What plans are there to control any Shia militia forces from exacting retribution and exacerbating the situation? Is there an information operations (IO) plan to reassure the mostly Sunni Mosul population that the Iraqi security forces and Shite-dominated government officials will not take retribution against them? In the U.S. military there would be an OPLAN with appropriate annexes to cover these contingencies (Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations, Information Operations, etc.).

Power Vacuum. A crucial point is who will fill the power vacuum once the Islamic State (IS) fighters are dislodged from Mosul. This could mean the difference between success and failure in the liberation of Mosul.


News Reports about the 2015 Attack on Mosul

June 9, 2015. "Inside Mosul: What's life like under Islamic State?", BBC News.

March 12, 2015. "There are no tea leaves to read about the Mosul Plan". War on the Rocks Blog. This article examines the inappropriate release by CENTCOM of plans to take Mosul.

February 25, 2015. "The March on Mosul and the Future of Kurdistan". Newsweek. The Kurds are ready to assist in the offensive but doubt the professionalism of the Iraqi Army and question the use of Shia militias.

February 25, 2015. "Islamic State experts worry U.S. is underestimating fight for Mosul". McClatchy DC Blog.

February 24, 2015. "Pentagon in Damage Control Mode After Detailing Iraq Offensive". Foreign Policy. The Defense Department angered Iraqi officials by detailing a coming push to reclaim Mosul from the Islamic Stae without giving Baghdad a heads-up. The news release created the appearance that the U.S. is leading the battle, and not Iraqi forces. A senior Defense official described the disclosures as a "major misstep".

February 23, 2015. "Obama's Rushing to Disaster in Iraq". Bloomberg View.

February 22, 2015. "Iraqis worry they won't be ready for mission to take back Mosul". Stars and Stripes. Iraqi officials continue to insist they don't have the advanced weapons they need for the retaking of Mosul and question whether they will be ready by spring 2015.

February 22, 2015. "Iraqi minister chides US over Mosul assault timing". The Daily Star. Iraq's defense minister criticized the United States for declaring a time frame for an offensive to recapture Mosul. He stated that the Iraq military will make that decision; not the U.S. military.

February 21, 2015. "Disclosures of Battle Plan by Pentagon Startle Many". The New York Times.

February 20, 2015. "Why the Pentagon wants you to know its Mosul war plan". The Washington Post. There is hope that the re-taking of Mosul will resemble the liberation of Paris rather than the siege of Stalingrad. Optimists are banking on the possibility of ISIS either abandoning the city or its fighters deciding to leave the fight individually.

February 20, 2015. "U.S. official: Plans in place for 25,000-strong Iraqi spring push to retake Mosul". CNN News.

February 19, 2015. "Military assault on Iraqi city of Mosul could begin in April". The Washington Post. After some selected Iraqi army units receive training from U.S. advisors they will attempt to retake Mosul. Some smaller operations to shape the environment have already begun.

 



Endnotes

1. Information from "Military assault on Iraqi city of Mosul could begin in April", The Washington Post, February 19, 2015.

2. For more on CENTCOM's mishandling of the timing of the Mosul attack see "Pentagon Scrubs Major Attack on ISIS", The Daily Beast, by Nancy A. Youssef, February 27, 2015.

 

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