Beginning in April, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the White House announced a number of tactics to accelerate the campaign to retake Mosul from ISIS, but few have been implemented, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday.
In addition, Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have yet to isolate the city, allowing the flow of foreign fighter reinforcements to continue, though at a reduced level, said Army Col. Chris Garver, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
“The enemy can still bring foreign fighters into Mosul,” Garver said in a briefing to the Pentagon from a location in the Mideast. “The city itself is not isolated, and that will be the first step of the Iraqi plan. As we’ve seen in Fallujah and as we saw in Ramadi, they want to isolate that city, surround it with forces and prevent folks from coming and going. They haven’t got to that part of the plan yet.”
Carter has touted four authorizations from the White House that have been agreed to by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in the drive to retake Mosul, the last remaining major Iraqi stronghold of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
An additional 560 U.S. troops would be sent to Iraq to bolster Iraqi forces at Qayyarah West, an airfield about 40 miles southeast of Mosul that was to serve as a “springboard” for the attack on the city; AH-64 Apache attack helicopters would back the offensive; HIMARS rocket artillery would be forward deployed; and U.S. troops would be deployed down to the battalion level with the ISF.
Garver said the additional 560 U.S. troops have yet to arrive in Iraq. Apaches are flying daily but have been used only twice against targets near Qayyarah. The HIMARS system was still in the process of moving forward, and U.S. troops have operated only once and briefly at the battalion level with the Iraqis, he added.
The colonel said U.S. engineers went forward at the battalion level with the Iraqis last month to oversee the construction of a floating bridge across the Tigris near Qayyarah. The troops were quickly withdrawn, and Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the CJTF commander, has not approved any more battalion-level deployments, Garver said.
MacFarland “has not directed forces down to live at the battalion level and I’m not sure he’s going to do that” for the Mosul offensive, Garver said. “He has the authorization to do that, but I think he sees it right now as we do it on a limited basis when it will make the most impact on the battlefield and we don’t anticipate seeing advisers with every battalion.”
However, Garver said that U.S. intelligence was picking up signs of lower morale and dissension in the ranks of the ISIS fighters defending Mosul.
“We do see some indications that morale is lower,” Garver said. ISIS commanders were cutting off access to the Internet for residents of Mosul. “We know that they’re afraid that citizens inside Mosul are going to communicate with the ISF,” he said.
ISIS leaders were also being executed “for lack of success or failure on the battlefield,” Garver said. He estimated that about 5,000 ISIS fighters were defending the city, but ISIS commanders “are not happy with where they are in Mosul.”
In the anti-ISIS coalition, “all eyes are focused on Mosul right now,” Garver said.