The mission is to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria extremists and its ideology of death and hatred.
“It’s tough, it’s hard and there are a lot of people dying and there are things you can’t wish away,” said Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq. “Unfortunately in conflict, that’s just how it is. It’s good that people understand that, and that they understand our situation.”
Talking via Skype from Baghdad, Dorrian spent time describing to JQP the mission intricacies and challenges. He talked about the progress being made and how the Iraqis themselves are leading the charge in the ongoing battle to recapture the once held ISIS stronghold. He also emphasized how this fight is not happening in a bubble, and advocates that security in Iraq directly influences security in the United States.
“We certainly don’t want to face a hoard of these guys who are up in here in Mosul coming into our streets or inspiring people to do similar things like they’ve done here,” he said.
Fighters on the ground are facing tough resistance, and have accepted the fact that it’s going to be a neighborhood-by-neighborhood, house-by-house fight.
“Iraqi-led fighters are taking this fight block-by-block, and are really exercising tactical patience,” he said. “There are a lot of things they ‘could’ do. They have F-16s in the Iraqi air force, and they could just level the place, but they haven’t done that.”
He talks about an Iraqi force that understands the importance of protecting civilian life, and that the mission itself is broader than just taking back territory. He said the manner in which Mosul is captured is setting conditions for the way it’s going to go in Iraq post ISIS.
“When Daesh (ISIS) came into Mosul there were a lot of disaffected people there who felt like there was as much invested in the failure of the government as in its success. Prime Minister Al-Abadi recognizes that the manner in which Mosul is liberated matters a great deal.” He continued, “Do you end up with a bubbling insurgency, or do you have a people saying the government took a thoughtful approach here and seems like they genuinely want to have a legitimate reconciliation process?”
The 64-nation strong coalition knows the world is watching, and by recognizing as much is often spending days and sometimes weeks with eyes on target before conducting its strikes. The coalition has also trained more than 60,000 specialists who will cleanse the city post conflict of improvised explosive devices and any other devastating items left behind as ISIS exits.
“This is a fight where you have to think about what ISIS is most likely to do, and what is the most dangerous thing they’re going to do,” he said, “and often times, they’re the same thing. Again, it’s not only about taking the city, but also how it’s retaken.”
It’s common knowledge that ISIS is more than extreme when it comes to its tactics. The extremist group is known for countless beheadings, drowning and burning people alive and also using women and children as human shields. They’ve executed people in public and thrown people off buildings because of their sexual orientation.
It’s been reported recently that Iraqi soldiers themselves have participated in similar behavior toward ISIS fighters. Videos have appeared on YouTube of Iraq soldiers dragging the dead bodies of ISIS fighters through the streets and videos of Iraqi fighters running over a young man with a tank.
Dorrian expresses knowledge of reports, but says the timing of these events has not been verified. He said Iraqi leadership is making a resolute effort to send the right people into the fight and if these events are proven to be true, the Iraqi government is prepared to discipline all involved. He also believes, this type of propaganda is indicative of a failing ISIS propaganda machine.
“In the past, ISIS has been pretty good and spreading its message. Unfortunately for them, their media machine is failing … and failing miserably. They even had to rename their flagship magazine because they no longer have control of its namesake city.”
He also said it’s vital to provide to the world a campaign that is functioning with transparency.
Speaking on the videos and reported human-rights violations, Dorrian said if these were current or verified by credible sources, he’d being seeing evidence of such because the coalition has embedded media working side-by-side with Iraqi fighters.
“Prime minister Al-Abadi is very focused on doing this right,” Dorrian said. “Before the Iraqis went into Mosul, Al-Abadi went on the radio to address the people of Mosul. He made a point of saying that ISIS has stunted the diversity for which Mosul’s been known for hundreds of years. He knows there’s a lot of bad blood based on a variety of things, and what he’s looking to do set conditions were there can be reconciliation.”
Dorrian contends even though the challenges are many, he believes ISIS’s resolve to build a twin caliphate is not as strong as the coalition’s resolve to eliminate the hatred … not only in Mosul, but in Raqqah, Syria as well.
“We’re fighting the battle as thoughtfully as it’s ever been done, and we continue to look for ways to make it even better,” he said. “We verify our strikes when we can, our airstrikes are coordinated with the Iraqis, and we strike with precision guided weapons. We’re flying Combat Air Support and when we strike in front of the Iraqi force advance, it’s building a lot of confidence.”
ISIS is losing legitimacy and losing its territory, and it’s operating on what Dorrian calls “its back foot.” The fight is not going to get any easier and more blood will be shed. The world will more than likely see things it can’t wish away, but through this fight, civilians in Mosul will hopefully regain their city, regain their diversity and regain a sense of normalcy.
“We have to take away their twin capitols (Mosul and Raqqah),” Dorrian said. “ISIS has not been successful in their campaigns or their recruiting, and we’re impacting their ability to do just about everything. I’m optimistic for a positive, sustainable outcome and I’m optimistic for the people of Iraq.”
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