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Mosul offensive: How the Islamic State counters Iraqi army?

Iraqi forces fire mortar shells towards positions of IS group jihadists on October 21, 2016. Photograph: (AFP)

WION Mosul, Nineveh Governorate, Iraq Oct 24, 2016, 02.57 PM (IST) Daniele Pagani

A wide network of 'well-equipped' tunnels have been discovered in several villages and towns located on the northeast corridor to Mosul, in the areas surrounding Bashiqa town as Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi Army up the ante to reclaim Mosul, the last Islamic State (IS) stronghold in Iraq. 


Fully equipped with electricity, mattresses, food and everything that may be needed to survive for months, these tunnels have served as hideouts for the IS terrorists during the attacks. 


Offensive could last for months if Mosul is riddled with 'well-equipped' tunnels 

Interestingly, underground tunnels are a very effective war technique which the North Vietnamese soldiers used during the Vietnam War. The resistance fighters known as the Viet Cong were able to defeat the US Army despite having less than one-third of their soldiers.


To the Islamic State, an appropriate network of underground tunnels gives a chance to the terrorists to find a shelter for themselves and hide their weapons and ammunitions during airstrikes. 


Countering the airstrikes may not be an option for the Islamic State, however, the terrorists try to survive the attacks by trying to get more time to fight back. 


These tunnels link several buildings inside the towns, allowing the IS terrorists to move from one post to another without being seen. This allows them to manage, for instance, several mortar emplacements with a few men running from one building to another, always undercover. 


If Mosul has truly been riddled with an extensive network of tunnels, the Mosul offensive could last for months. 


It's pertinent to mention that the city is densely constructed and  the small lanes already offer an ideal shelter for the urban guerrilla. 


The equipped tunnels also add an element of surprise to the battle: terrorists could pop up and attack from behind a group of vehicles patrolling the city without being noticed, and then disappear and do the same in another area. 


Further, individuating tunnels in advance is quite difficult. As reported by Fox News, debris generated while excavating have been sealed inside houses in order to hide the entrances and protect them from the possible airstrikes.


Arguably, knowledge of the different tactics that IS is leveraging can help Iraqi Army in understanding the enemy better. 


It is not an improvised guerrilla mob, but a well-organised entity with many fighters coming from former dictator Saddam Hussain’s army ranks, who are tactically and military prepared to unconventional warfare.


Many of the tunnels have also been booby-trapped, probably anticipating the retreat.


Leveraging tactics 

Even after their 'eventual defeat', the IS aims to create maximum damage by leveraging tactics such as disseminating the towns with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) hidden in everyday essentials. 


Once a town is capitulating, terrorists launch themselves against the lines driving car bombs, which can become incredibly ready weapons if not stopped and detonated in time. 


Many of the towns that were conquered by Peshmerga and Iraqi Army in the first week of operations were mostly inhabited and were used mainly as military posts.


In the towns closer to Mosul, where a significant number of civilians still live, car bombs and booby trucks  can definitely result in a high number of casualties if attacks are carried out within the towns. 


IS  uses the same logic when it sets fire to oil fields. Recently, the IS torched the Mishraq sulphur plant, a major factory located in the area of Qayyarah, south to Mosul, where the US have their main launch platform for all air operations during the offensive. American military personnel have been asked to wear gas masks when operating close to the area.


IS also has well-trained snipers and the capability of using all regular warfare weapons, which can be another dangerous element. 


When Iraqi Army abandoned the city, they admitted leaving behind a considerable number of armoured vehicles and weapons. “In the collapse of Mosul, we lost a lot of weapons,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was quoted as saying by the Iraqiya state TV. 


“We lost 2,300 Humvees (armoured vehicles) in Mosul alone.” A considerable part of the military equipment was up-to-date. It was the same that US troops brought in 2004.


Mosul is a big city and there are neighbourhoods and sections of the population who are ready to support the Islamic State, as it happened when they first came. The terrorist organisation is well-aware of the importance of the locals and have operated to built consensus among them in the last years in many cities organising populist events as free ice-cream event, food distributions. 


It is now definitely clear that stabilising Mosul will not be easy. As regular troops will enter the city, an underground resistance is likely to take place that will prompt the forces to constantly patrol the streets day and night.  The long-term operation will require many men.



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