Iraqi forces clean their arms and prepare their combat gear south of Mosul in mid February. Photo: AFP / Ahmad Al-Rubaye
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region –The anticipated fresh offensive to liberate the western part of Mosul from the ISIS militants will be “tough” and may take at least 100 days, Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, deputy commander for strategy and support of the US-led international coalition against the extremist group said.
“In terms of how long it will take. Well look, you know east Mosul took 100 days, west Mosul could be every minute tough. So you know, you can work it out from there,” Maj. Gen Jones told the BBC, aired on Saturday.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces supported by the coalition launched on October 17 the offensive to retake Mosul from the ISIS group. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the full liberation of the eastern half on January 24.
“You don’t retake towns and cities the size of Mosul heavily defended quickly,” Jones added. “The Iraqis know that it will be a tough fight. But I am confident they will prevail with our support.”
The city is more densely populated in western Mosul, with many narrow streets and alleyways. On Friday, Reuters reported that ISIS militants were developing networks of tunnels and passageways, knocking holes between houses in order to move around the city undetected.
The UN estimates there are 750,000 civilians living under ISIS rule, besieged in west Mosul, with little access to basic necessities. The city is surrounded by Iraqi security forces and few goods are able to get into the city.
The spokesperson for the coalition Colonel John Dorrian told Rudaw on Thursday that the fight will be “very tough,” especially in light of the great number of civilians still under the control of the extremist group.
"What we expect is this is going to be a very, very difficult fight and very dangerous. What we've seen from the enemy is they don't have any problem harming civilians ... in many cases they've purposefully targeted civilians — that's happening right now,” Dorrian said.
The top US commander in Iraq Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said more than a week ago that he expects the defeat of ISIS in its two major strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa within six months. The extremist group is struggling as it faces multiple offensives on several fronts from Iraqi, Kurdish, coalition, Syrian regime, Syrian opposition, Russian, and Turkish forces.
“Within the next six months, I think we’ll see both conclude,” said US Army Lt. Gen. Townsend north of Baghdad, referring to the ongoing Mosul and Raqqa military campaigns.
Around the same time the Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Army Osman al-Ghani announced that the military operation to retake the right side of Mosul from ISIS militants will begin soon.
Ghani said that "the Iraqi army, federal police and counter-terrorism forces are set to conduct the operation."