IRBIL — A top Iraqi commander told The Associated Press that the operation to retake the city of Mosul from Daesh (the so-called IS) group could be complete in three months or less.
“It’s possible” that Mosul will be liberated in in that time frame, Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati said in an interview with the AP on Tuesday evening. However, he warned it is difficult to give an accurate estimate of how long the operation will take because it is not a conventional fight.
“There are many variables,” he said, describing the combat as “guerrilla warfare.”
The massive offensive involving some 30,000 Iraqi forces was launched in October and Iraqi leaders originally pledged the city would be retaken before 2017. However as the fight enters its fourth month, only about a third of the city is under government control.
Iraqi forces — largely led by special forces — have slowly advanced across Mosul’s east. Fierce Daesh counterattacks have killed and injured hundreds of Iraqi troops and inflicted considerable damage to Iraqi military equipment. Repeatedly, after what appeared to be swift progress on the ground, Iraqi forces have been pushed back by Daesh counterattacks overnight.
However, Shaghati said the counterattacks — specifically car bombings — have slowed. He estimated his forces are seeing less than half the number of Daesh car bomb attacks on the front than they were faced with when the operation first began.
The US-led coalition bombed the bridges spanning the Tigris river connecting Mosul’s east and west in November in an effort to stop the flow of car bombs to Iraqi frontline positions in the eastern half of the city.
Shaghati, the top commander of Iraq’s special forces and the Commander of Iraq’s Joint Military Operation said that while many forces are participating in the Mosul fight, Iraq’s special forces are the only troops with the skills to fight Daesh militants.
“The forces who have the skills to fight guerrilla warfare is only the CTS,” he said using an alternative acronym for Iraq’s special forces who are also called the counter-terrorism forces. “They have flexibility and can act quickly,” he said.
For the Mosul operation to continue, Shaghati said Iraqi forces need to continue to receive support and equipment from the US-led coalition. Since the Mosul operation began, the coalition says its planes have launched thousands of airstrikes in and around Iraq’s second largest city.
Although Shaghati said he believes that the beginning of the Mosul operation marked the end of Daesh in Iraq, the country will likely struggle with terrorist threats long after Daesh is defeated in Mosul.
When asked if he expected levels of support to change when US President-elect Donald Trump takes office this month, he said: “We believe that the support of our American friends is continuing and ongoing.”
Meanwhile, Sabah Al-Noman, spokesman for the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), told AFP that Iraqi forces have retaken at least 80 percent of east Mosul.
“I think you can say that we have retaken 80 to 85 percent” of the eastern side of Mosul, Al-Noman, said. — Agencies