Mosul Offensive Hindered by ISIS Violence, Desertions

Kurdish forces doubt ability of Iraqi army soldiers

Mosul
Iraqi army soldiers load a rocket launcher outside Makhmour / AP

Iraqi army soldiers were forced to withdraw from their mission to capture three villages held by the Islamic State last week, spelling trouble for the force as it gears up capture Mosul, the terror group’s de facto capital in Iraq.

USA Today reported:

[Thursday’s mission] proved to be a slog because of heavy rains, tougher-than-expected resistance from the militants and reports of the low morale that has dogged the Iraqi military ever since the Islamic State swept into Iraq in 2014. The stalled operation underscored just how difficult it will be to dislodge the militants from Mosul. … By Saturday, the Iraqi soldiers were bogged down outside the strategic hilltop village ofNassrash, where suicide bombers killed at least seven soldiers. The next day, rain turned the area’s dirt roads into quagmires and cloud cover prevented coalition jets from providing effective support.

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The Iraqi army’s mission began with the primary goal of stripping the villages of ISIS control before crossing the Tigris River to recapture the ISIS-held town of Qayyarah. The soldiers were backed by air support from the U.S.-led coalition, artillery fire from U.S. Marines, and logistical support from Kurdish fighters.

The soldiers were forced to withdraw after being confronted by sniper fire and other obstacles. Kurdish forces who spoke to USA Today expressed doubt about the Iraqi army’s ability to succeed in the operation, though the U.S. military has expressed optimism.

Kurdish Col. Mahdi Younis said that "no one should expect the least success from the Iraqi army. They have no will to fight." The colonel pointed to a pile of cellphones on his desk, which he said belonged to deserters of the Iraqi army who were stopped at a checkpoint.

Still, U.S. military spokesman Col. Steve Warren said that the Iraqi soldiers are consistently improving.

"We believe that the Iraqis have performed according to the plan that they’ve set," Warren said. "The Iraqi army, we believe, is improving every day."

The Pentagon recently established a Marine fire base about 50 miles from Mosul with the intention of supporting Iraqi and Kurdish forces combatting ISIS in the region. A detachment of Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit supported the Iraqi forces with artillery fire on Thursday.