For the U.S.-led military coalition waging war against ISIS, victory over the militants may finally be at hand — in one major stronghold, at least.
Eight months after Iraqi Security Forces backed by U.S. military advisers and a steady deluge of GPS-guided munitions initiated their assault on Mosul, government troops have nearly succeeded in eradicating the city of its militant infestation — and in seizing the 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri Mosque, the beating heart of the ISIS “caliphate” proclaimed almost exactly three years ago.
"The return of al-Nuri Mosque and al-Hadba minaret to the fold of the nation marks the end of the Daesh state of falsehood," Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi said in an official statement on June 29. Speaking on state TV, ISF spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool put things a bit more succinctly: "Their fictitious state has fallen.”
The announcement comes amid a series of symbolic defeats for ISIS, most notably the June 21 destruction of the Grand al-Nuri Mosque’s towering minaret, the architectural manifestation of the jihadis’ twisted caliphate, in the face of the ISF advance. After its collapse, ISIS attempted to blame coalition airstrikes for its destruction in the insurgency equivalent of a rage-quit.
And despite the premature declaration of victory by Iraqi officials, the siege of Mosul isn’t completely over just yet. Reuters reports that ISIS militants remain “bottled up” in several Old City neighborhoods and the al Jamhouri Hospital complex, where fighters have reportedlystockpiled food and weapons and festooned sealed-off streets and alley with vehicle-borne IEDS, booby-traps, and other deadly DIY arms ahead of the coalition’s grueling block-by-block advance. On June 27, ABC News reported that ISIS counterattacks had already managed to stymie the Iraqi forces’ push into those final pockets of infestation.
“Iraqi grit, determination, and support from the Coalition will lead to the imminent liberation of Mosul,” OIR spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said in a statement on Twitter on June 29. “ISIS’ so-called caliphate is crumbling, from the outside and from within.”
The coalition is certainly more than up to the task. U.S. Central Command told Defense One that the more-than 29,000 munitions deployed across 1,300 strikes against ISIS fighters by coalition aircraft have destroyed “359 VBIEDs , 781 buildings and facilities, 225 tunnels, 1,006 vehicles, 1,700 bunkers, 48 , 685 artillery and mortar systems and 279 boats and barges” since ISF initiated its assault on Mosul in October 2016.
As ISIS continues to lose territory, their morale plummets and ISIS leaders have abandoned fighters to die,” Dillon wrote on Twitter. “ISIS oil revenue production has plummeted due to pressure from the Coalition. The Coalition and our partner forces, will NOT allow ISIS time, resources, to plan, plot, organize, or inspire attacks.”
The proclaimed victory comes amid a wave of good news for the three-year-old multinational campaign to eradicate ISIS. On June 29, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Syrian Democratic Forces and Kurdish militias have “completely encircle” ISIS fighters in the group’s de facto capital and remaining stronghold of Raqqa, denying the militants a chance to flee and regroup in line with the “annihilation campaign” outlined by Secretary of Defense James Mattis in May.
“The Syrian Arab Coalition have been moving east from Tabqa for some time, seizing terrain from Isis and liberating villages and towns as they move toward the Euphrates where the river begins to run south,” a CENTCOM spokesman told The Independent. “This will completely encircle the city and has been the SDF plan from the start."
What’s in store for Mosul after Iraqi Security Forces fully eradicates ISIS fighters from its ancient streets remains unclear. Public affairs officials with CENTCOM and OIR did not immediately respond to inquiries from Task & Purpose regarding both the Iraqi government’s declaration of victory and the coalition’s roadmap for completely liberating the city.