Monday, January 23, 2017

The Campaign of Mosul: January 19-23, 2017

By Emily Anagnostos and the ISW Iraq Team

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) stormed the last neighborhood in eastern Mosul on January 23, nearing the end of a nearly three month long battle to clear the eastern half of the city. The ISF is preparing to enter the smaller, but denser and heavily populated, western half within the coming days.

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continued its momentum in northern Mosul from January 19 to 23, as the Iraqi Army (IA) pushed into the last ISIS-held neighborhood in east Mosul, Rashidiyah, on January 23. The complete recapture of the city east of the Tigris River is expected within a day. Units from the 9th IA Armored Division and 1st IA Division, previously operating in now-recaptured southeastern Mosul, deployed to and recaptured Tel Kayyaf District on January 19, then extended the ISF’s northern control to encompass the main Dohuk-Mosul road. Units from the 16th Iraqi Army Division had isolated but bypassed Tel Kayyaf in late October 2016 in order to keep apace with other axes already nearing the city limits. Meanwhile, the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) expanded control along the Tigris River in central Mosul, gaining control of all five bridges on the eastern side on January 19. The recent gain in momentum follows increased Coalition and ISF efforts to reinforce and synchronize ground efforts across the city and block ISIS’s cross-city mobility. 
Both the ISF and ISIS are preparing for operations in western Mosul. Sources reported on January 22 that engineering units had begun to assemble five pontoon bridges, provided by the Coalition to replace the destroyed bridges, in order to cross the Tigris River into western Mosul. ISIS, meanwhile, destroyed the landmark Mosul Hotel, situated on the river bank near the northernmost Third Bridge, in order to deny the ISF a strategic base. ISIS will likely use the density of western Mosul to attrite the ISF in an urban fight and limit the ISF’s ability to call in air support or heavy artillery. 

The ISF will also need to prepare to operate around an estimated 750,000 civilians remaining in western Mosul. Evacuating residents from western Mosul will be challenging, whether the ISF directs Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to cross first into eastern Mosul towards the camps east of the city, against the grain of current advances, or towards camps west of the Tigris River. Evacuating residents will place an added burden on the ISF to police the IDPs flows. The ISF could elect, then, to operate while residents remain in place, as they largely did in eastern Mosul though it slowed its advances, and import humanitarian aid rather than take responsibility for IDPs flows. Any option will complicate urban operations.
Correction: Previous maps incorrectly showed Mosul’s city limits as encompassing two villages in northern Mosul west of Rashidiyah. These villages are suburbs and are not within the city limits, making Rashidiyah the last ISIS-held area in Mosul.