Iraqi Security Forces launched their counter-attack yesterday to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, according to a statement released by Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials.
U.S. forces based at the Q-West airfield have been helping Kurdish and Iraqi forces prep the battlefield for an eventual invasion of the country's second largest city. (Photo from U.S. Department of Defense)
"The United States and the rest of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga fighters and the people of Iraq in the difficult fight ahead," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a separate statement. "We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from ISIL's hatred and brutality."
According the the BBC which has a reporter embedded with Kurdish Peshmerga troops, the invasion kicked off in the early morning hours Oct. 17 with sporadic skirmishes along the roads to the east of the city. Iraqi forces pushed north from the so-called "Q-West" air base recently captured from ISIS and where U.S. forces have been helping the Iraqis establish a logistics base for operations to take Mosul.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, OIR commander, said the operation to regain control of Mosul will likely continue for weeks and possibly longer. But it comes after more than two years of Islamic State oppression in Mosul, "during which they committed horrible atrocities [and] brutalized the people" after declaring the city to be one of their twin capitals, the general said in the statement.
The coalition can't predict how long it will take for the ISF to retake the city, Townsend said, "but we know they will succeed -- just as they did in Beiji, in Ramadi, in Fallujah and, more recently in Qayyarah and Sharqat."
Mosul is still home to more than a million people — despite hundreds of thousands reportedly having fled the city since 2014 — according to United Nations estimates.
The OIR coalition will provide "air support, artillery, intelligence, advisors and forward air controllers," Townsend said in the statement, adding that the supporting forces "will continue to use precision to accurately attack the enemy and to minimize any impact on innocent civilians."
During the past two years of ISIL control in Mosul, OIR efforts have expanded to include a coalition of more than 60 countries, which have combined to conduct tens of thousands of precision strikes to support Iraqi operations, and trained and equipped more than 54,000 Iraqi forces, the general said.
"But to be clear, the thousands of ground combat forces who will liberate Mosul are all Iraqis," Townsend said in the statement.
Carter, in his statement, called it a "decisive moment" in the campaign. Townsend said it's not just a fight for the future of Iraq, but also "to ensure the security of all of our nations."