In the last two days the police and armor from the 9th Division moved out of Abu Saif in the south, took the town of Yarmouk. The Golden Div joined in and together they have freed the Mosul Airport, Ghazalni Camp, and entered Tel Ruman, Mamun, Wadi Hajar, Hawl al-Josaq and Dandan. (Medecins Sans Frontieres)
February 24 the Iraqi forces (ISF) secured the Mosul airport and Ghazlani camp and headed north into the city itself. The Golden Division secured Ghazlani, while the Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division, supported by armor of the 9th Division did the same for Mosul airport. Large numbers of Islamic State fighters surrendered to the police at the airfield, something that has not really been reported before. This could point to the insurgents’ morale breaking. The Golden Division then moved into the Maamun Wadi Hajar neighborhoods to the northwest of Ghazlani. The two police units went for Hawl al-Josaq and Dandan, which are directly north of the airport, freeing the latter. The army’s 9th Division and the Hashd’s Al Abbas Division took Tal Ruman that is to the east of Maamun. The ISF were using bulldozers to make new roadways to avoid the main thoroughfares, which have been laced with IEDs. Moving to the outskirts of the city was relatively easy, but now the real fight is beginning as the ISF enter the Mosul itself.
The Hashd in the western Tal Afar district were also busy. They liberated three towns. The Hashd have moved form cutting the supply lines from Tal Afar to Syria to interdicting the lines from Mosul to Tal Afar.
There were constant Coalition air strikes and U.S. Apache helicopters flying overhead as the ISF moved into Mosul. Those were facilitated by U.S. and Coalition advisers, which are now forward deployed at the front with the Golden, Rapid Reaction, and 9th Divisions. The Associated Press talked with U.S. Lt. Colonel James Browning who was working with the 9th Division. He took calls from an Iraqi general on IS locations, which were then confirmed by Coalition surveillance, and then hit with air, helicopter or artillery fire. Before these Iraqi requests would have to be forwarded to the joint operations command in Baghdad before anything could be done taking precious time. Now the call and response period is much quicker. This is part of the Trump administration’s more aggressive approach to taking on the Islamic State. As a result, the Americans have loosened the rules of engagement and allowed its troops to be at the front, which has also resulted in casualties. This change in policy will greatly enhance the Iraqis ability to clear areas and advance in the city.
The renewed fighting has led to a new wave of displaced. The Iraq Red Crescent reported that approximately 990 people registered with the government and aid agencies fleeing south Mosul. These civilians were taken to Qayara to the south of the city or to Irbil in the east where camps are set up. For the last few weeks more people were going back to their homes, but that has now been reversed as the battle for west Mosul has begun.
Securing east Mosul is still a major challenge. The National Security Service (NSS) is trying to hunt down IS members. They are collecting information on suspects using information from locals. The NSS however is not the only group doing security duties. There are also army, police, and local Hashd units. These groups hardly coordinate and compete with each other, which has caused all kinds of problems. People are also beginning to complain about the raids and mass arrests. Prime Minister Haidar Abadi is talking about appointing a military governor of Mosul again to try to unify this effort. This idea was brought up before, but nothing came of it. Now that IS is picking up its attacks there is added pressure to try to find a solution.
National Security Service raid in east Mosul (Al Jazeera)
The danger facing east Mosul continued. The Iraqi forces interdicted a large force of IS fighters attempting to cross the Tigris River. More importantly residents said that IS is posting threats to people on social networks. The militants recently put up flyers in an east Mosul neighborhood intimidating people as well. These are very serious because if people feel that they are not safe they will eventually stop providing intelligence to the Iraqi forces. If that happens there is no way to root out the Islamic State and they can start rebuilding their networks in the city just as Baghdad has expended so much energy to try to win over the populace by liberating them.
U.S. general Joseph Votel gave a rough estimate of the Iraqi casualties from the battle for east Mosul. He said 500 Iraqi soldiers died and another 3,000 were wounded. More ISF were reported killed in the press, but only around half as many injured. The real figures may never become public as Baghdad is completely adverse to bad news about the war coming out.
Finally, the Oil Ministry announced that another oil well in Qayara had been extinguished. That leaves three wells still ablaze. The field was set on fire when IS was forced out in August, and has been an environmental disaster ever since.
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