Campbell MacDiarmid reports: On a clear and chilly day in mid-December, Iraqi counterterrorism service (CTS) troops were fighting to clear Islamic State fighters from the Karama and Sumer districts in eastern Mosul. Like many of the other 38 neighborhoods of eastern Mosul that CTS officers said they had retaken, Karama had previously been reported liberated numerous times in local media since early November, and fighting had been ongoing in Sumer for days. Meanwhile, beleaguered Iraqi Army 9th Division troops — one of the only Iraqi security forces (ISF) units inside Mosul — were withstanding another withering Islamic State counterattack after overextending themselves in the Wahda neighborhood the week before.
Above them flew an orchestra of airplanes from nine countries. Strike aircraft with names like Eagle, Raptor, Harrier, Hornet, Typhoon, and Apache patrolled the skies, 43 in total. Further filling the airspace were a dozen drones and other support aircraft, including E-3 and E-4 airborne command and control planes, EC-130H electronic attack aircraft, Italian C-27J electronic jammers, and a midair tanker fleet, which throughout the day delivered more than 430,000 gallons of gas to the warplanes in the sky.
“It really is unlimited capacity,” said Brig. Gen. Matthew Isler, the coalition air campaign’s deputy commanding general, after describing the air forces available to him. That day, the coalition reported targeting six Islamic State tactical units, four vehicles, four mortar systems, four buildings, three rocket-propelled grenades, two car bomb factories, two front-end loaders, two tunnels, a land bridge, a bridge, a supply cache, and 13 roads. The CTS finally secured the two districts later that day, Isler said, making the operation a success.
Arabic media, however, reported that Iraqi forces were still shelling Sumer after Isler had declared it secure, while maps made by media activists that coordinate with government security forces still list the neighborhood as under Islamic State control.
Day 57 of the operation to retake Mosul was in many ways just another day. Even with the international coalition pulling out all the stops in the air campaign, Iraqi troops are making grinding progress in tough urban fighting against a suicidal and surrounded enemy. Initial hopes of a quick and easy victory have been dashed, as a carefully calibrated Islamic State strategy of suicide bombing extracts a high toll on Iraq’s most effective fighting units for every district retaken. Two months into the offensive, an estimated 75 percent of the city remains under the jihadi group’s control. [Continue reading…]