The siege on the Islamic State-held (IS) northern Iraqi city of Mosul is entering its second month as Baghdad’s forces slow considerably. Little progress to enter the city at any of the compass points will extend the battle’s predicted completion time to at minimum late January, or even February.
The 9th and 16th Army divisions are poised in the south and north respectively, while Shia militia have their sights on the town of Tel Afar to the west of Mosul. However, Iraqi forces are paused due to IS battlefield preparation inside the city. Not only is the militant group using civilians as human shields, its sniper nests are situated atop family homes, denying the use of airstrikes.
Yet the eastern parts of Mosul were supposed to be simpler. The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) is bogged down in these neighbourhoods and suffering heavy causalities. The service is the most elite of Baghdad’s forces so its losses will be noticeable and could lead to more infighting. Future operations in the well-defended western neighbourhoods must now be re-evaluated.
In Syria, the other major siege in the region on the city of Aleppo appears to be all but over. It is not a matter of if the city will fall to loyalist forces, but when. Russia also announced a “major operation” and restarted its airstrikes after a month-long pause. Moscow says its warplanes are targeting terrorist positions, but sources on the ground say the rebels are in the crosshairs as well.
Some of the sorties come from the newly-arrived Admiral Kuztnetsov aircraft carrier group – Russia’s only operational carrier – positioned in the eastern Mediterranean. It is the first time the aircraft carrier has been used in combat, showcasing Russia’s military prestige. Embarrassingly, a fighter jet quickly crashed on approach due to mechanical failure.
The airstrikes are assisting regime troops around Aleppo attempting to push back a rebel counteroffensive. So far all significant gains by rebels have been repulsed and neighbourhoods held by the rebels since 2012 have been retaken. The reversals are crippling for rebel forces and loyalists will now prepare to retake the city of Idlib next year to crush the last of the rebel’s urban holdings.