Eradication of ISIS in Iraq still months away, says US senior commander

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Volunteer Shiite fighters, known as the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), who support the Iraqi government forces in the combat against the Islamic State (IS) group fire a Howitzer artillery canon in the village of Awaynat near the city of Tikrit. File photo: AFP

ARA News

Brig. Gen. William Turner, the US-led coalition’s Deputy Commanding General for Sustainment, said in an exclusive interview with ARA News that the defeat of ISIS in all of Iraq “is still months away”.

Supported by the US-led coalition, the Iraqi forces have been combatting ISIS in Mosul for more than 8 months, and ISIS is now isolated in the old city in West Mosul, but a ‘tough fight’ will continue, the US General says.

“ISIS as a whole, is a corned force and they are quite desperate. The way they take civilians hostage and the way they conduct operations,” he said, adding that ISIS is isolated in a ‘very tight space’ of 4 to 5 kilometers. “They are fierce fighters, there is a core of ISIS fighters that are fighting to death, and it continues to be a tough fight in Mosul,” General Turner told ARA News on Friday.

According to the coalition’s official, there are still ‘around 100,000 civilians’ in the West Mosul vicinity. “But that include people in areas where Iraqi security forces already moved through, we start to see Maslawis [Mosul people] to return to the city, you have seen it in east Mosul there life is returning markets, economy, evidence of security, local police being established there. There were not any IED attacks since the end of January,” he said.

“[This] arguable toughest urban terrain we ever have witnesses in how densely packed the infrastructure is, the civilian populate that is still residing in there in some shape or form, and being held hostage, and being constrained by ISIS and its just tough environment to fight in. It’s a small area, and the Iraqis are making great progress to attack multiple axes, which is showing great promises,” the General said.

However, he said the fight would not be over soon. “It’s a very very tough fight right now, as you know from your time here, the amount of time ISIS had to prepare their defenses, the tunnel systems that they have, I think the house born IEDS they have been able to position, the vehicle born IEDS they have been able to establish, the holes and walls and their ability to maneuver in inside of this tight dense urban environment.  This is really making it a tough fight to go in there and to kind of route the, out of there,” the General told ARA News via Skype.

While the focus is now on liberating Mosul, the US General acknowledges that the fight against ISIS –even after Mosul’s liberation– will continue for months.

“As you describe, we have seen ISIS elements in Hawija vicinity, out towards Tal Afar, Euphrates river valley, and Iraqi security forces are well aware of it and they understand there is still fighting going ahead, when they complete operation in Mosul its not going to be end of this, the eradication of Daash in Iraq, is still, I think still several months away as they continue to do those operations, what they going to do immediately next sure, I have no indication of that,” he told ARA News.

“The focus right now is on West Mosul and trying to complete that. Sure, we have seen ISIS pockets that exist in other parts of Iraq, Iraqi security forces and their leaderships right now have not gone so far to indicate which direction they may go to combat those threats,” he added.

The top US general says the fight is more difficult due to the dense urban environment in West Mosul, where the streets are so narrow its even difficult to move for armored vehicles, making it a man to man fight in which some cases ISIS has the defensive advantage. As a result, it’s more difficult to carry out air strikes. “I don’t know if its more difficult necessarily,” General Turner said.

“As far as engage targets with precise munitions, there is no change to do that. We have very strict and disciplined procedures,” he said. “[We] discriminately striking targets we know of military value, and put proportionality to those strikes, that we are not making more collateral damage. We take every measure off course to mitigate civilian casualties in this environment,” he added.

Moreover, the US General told ARA News that the airstrike on 17 March that killed over 100 civilians was the result of ISIS explosions that were set off by the strike. “The investigation revealed that the actual detonation ignited an ISIS explosion, that was already in place.”

“The evidence of these munitions were placed [by ISIS] around the facility in order to achieve the affects which they did. Its clear ISIS deliberately placed these munitions,” the official said.

“They [ISIS] extremely desperate at this point. They know the end is near, and they can see that. They are taking desperate measures like taking hostages, locking up people in buildings, we have received reports of that, we see evidence of them actually locking up groups of people in buildings, and not letting them out, and to continue to execute operations in higher levels of these buildings, deliberately trying to engage Iraqi security forces, and then draw fire back at them,” he said.

After ISIS is finished, it’s unclear yet of the U.S.-led coalition forces will stay on a longer term, the U.S. general said. “I don’t have a crystal ball. We continue to stay here on the invitation of the Iraqi government.”

“There is a significant fight ahead of them [for the Iraqis] to destroy Daesh [ISIS] in Iraq and to defeat the enemy. But there is still an interest within the government of Iraq, to continue to train them on special areas, like medical aid, counter IED breach operations, bridging operations, and combined operations. We will continue this partnership,” he concluded.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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