The Islamic State has held Mosul
since last summer giving it time to build up formidable defenses. However, the offensive will involve five brigades or about 25,000 troops against a mere one to two thousand IS fighters although reinforcements may be brought in prior to the offensive. Even with those lopsided numbers and help from the Kurdish peshmerga, US officials, and even some within the Iraqi military hierarchy, think that direct intervention by US troops will be needed. The last thing that the west wants is another rout such as happened when Mosul was taken in the first place by IS with many advanced weapons being captured.
There will also be heavy air support from the US-led coalition. US officials are already saying that US ground troops will be brought in "if necessary". The US has already been massing combat troops in neighboring Kuwait who may very well be used in a ground war in Iraq that Obama has continually stressed will not happen. The timing of the offensive is not certain but will probably be some time in April or May. A Kurdish commander
was skeptical about any early offensive claiming that the Iraqi army "is not ready for the fight".
New Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi
was more upbeat. The Iraqi forces have had additional training some of it conducted by the US and some territory has been retaken. Al-Abadi said:
"We are now planning an offensive on Mosul in the coming few months. We have to prepare for it carefully, because the only choice we have in Mosul (is to win). We have to win in Mosul to keep (ISIS) out." Count Barzani
, a senior commander of the Kurdish peshmerga militia was quite sceptical. The planned Kurdish role is to provide support for the operation outside the city but not enter the city itself. While the Iraqi government claims there will be close coordination with the Kurds Barzani said:
"I don't think it's realistic, and I don't have any idea about a plan. And if it involves the Iraqi army only, it's not going to work. The Iraqi army is not ready for the fight."
A Central Command official claimed the operation would begin in April or May but also said that a final decision on the operation was still a long way from being finalized. The official said that giving the details of the operation would demonstrate that Iraq was committed to taking back Mosul. At this stage the involvement of US combat troops is downplayed. General Austin, head of Central Command, and General Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have suggested that a small number of US troops could be deployed to call in airstrikes. A Central Command(CENTCOM) official said
that US ground forces could also be involved as well. President Obama said that he would authorize the limited use of ground forces if necessary.
of the planned offensive angered some US politicians:
Republican U.S. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a letter to President Barack Obama, “Never in our memory can we recall an instance in which our military has knowingly briefed our own war plans to our enemies.”
To add to the confusion an officer of the Iraqi Defense Ministry claimed that it would take until at least August to train and arm Iraqi forces but also to work out differences both with Kurdish peshmerga and Shiite militia.
, spoke anonymously about the reasons for revealing details of the mission to recapture Mosul. One explanation is that the announcement is to reinforce the impression that the IS has lost the initiative in Iraq and is on the defensive. Another reason is to assure that citizens of Iraq that help is soon on the way. The aim may also be to prod the Iraqi government into action and encourage it to form alliances with tribes around Mosul.