An Iraqi soldier with a rocket-propelled grenade in Mosul. Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP
As the campaign against ISIS in Mosul entered its second phase on Thursday, analysts consulted by Rudaw English estimated that the entire operation to retake the city will continue into mid-2017 at the latest.
This comes shortly after the commander of the US campaign against ISIS, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, said that the entire war against ISIS, the recapture of both Mosul and Raqqa, will last as long as two years.
“People need to rest,” Townsend told The Daily Beast. “They need to assess how things are going because they are not going as fast as we thought.” He went on to add that this was something they warned the Iraqis about beforehand.
“The general seemed to be referring to the entire campaign,” said Michael Knights, the Washington Institute's Lafer Fellow, “so nobody has suggested Mosul's liberation will take two years. I can see Mosul's liberation lasting until mid-2017.”
“East Mosul will likely be recaptured by January, February and West Mosul by February, April or May,” he added.
Joel Wing, an Iraq analyst who runs the Musings on Iraq blog, echoed Knights' estimate.
“I would think that summer 2017 would be the long estimate on recapturing Mosul,” he said. “I'm thinking more like the spring but you never know.”
Wing’s uncertainty stems from the upcoming offensive against ISIS in Mosul's west.
“There doesn't appear to be any consensus on how Western Mosul will be like compared to the east,” he explained. “Heavy fighting, future pauses could all lead to the campaign being finalized by the summer.”
Launched on October 17, the Iraqi Army's push into Mosul was paused as part of a pre-planned “operational refit” for nearly a month before the second phase kicked off on Thursday. To date the battle has seen Iraqi forces, with US-led coalition air and artillery support, pushing into the city's eastern districts. So far they have captured approximately a quarter of the city from the militants.
US military advisors are embedding more directly with the Iraqis to oversee the operation. The coalition has also bombed the remaining bridge over the Tigris River connecting east and west Mosul to make it more difficult for ISIS to resupply and reorganize its forces between the two sides of the vast metropolis.
Unlike previous operations to recapture the much smaller and less-populated cities of Ramadi and Fallujah in Anbar province, this operation is seeing much more fighting on the ground.
Continuous coalition fire support in Mosul as seen in those past battles would displace far more civilians, potentially destroy more of the city, and add to the already enormous population of displaced persons in the neighbouring Kurdistan Region. Baghdad urged the civilians of Mosul to remain in their homes throughout the course of the operation, partially in order to avoid another humanitarian crisis.
Mosul is the last major urban stronghold ISIS has left in Iraq and the largest city the group has ever managed to conquer. Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had previously expressed hopes that the city will be recaptured by the end of 2016. He recently backtracked on this estimate in light of the aforementioned pause, saying it will likely take another three months, indicating that it will be liberated around springtime.
“I think the operation to retake Mosul will take longer than first thought, but not as long as two years,” said Dylan O'Driscoll, a fellow at the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) in Erbil who has written critically and extensively on the lack of pre-battle plans for the operation.
“It is a different battle to that of Raqqa,” he elaborated, “with everyone collaborating in reaching the common goal of defeating the Islamic State.”
“The operation is now reaching difficult city terrain and has slowed down significantly, but I think there are too many probabilities to make estimates of completion at this time,” O'Driscoll reasoned.
“However, for the people of Mosul, the operation needs to happen as fast as possible, whilst taking their safety into account, and one would hope that it does not drag out too far into the year,” he concluded.