Coalition Takes Fight to Al Qaeda in Mosul
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 3, 2008 Coalition forces are fighting aggressively to secure the battle-scarred city of Mosul, Iraq, in an effort to stamp out al Qaeda safe havens. Video
“We're now forcing the enemy, boxing them in … into areas, that they otherwise had free play in the city,” Army Brig. Gen. Raymond A. “Tony” Thomas III Thomas, deputy commander of Multinational Division North, said in a briefing today. “We've seized the initiative, and we're slowly but surely eliminating their toehold in the city.”
This push comes as many of the enemy have been forced out of other strongholds in the north and are fleeing to the city that has been a historic center of gravity for them, he said.
“They're still flocking … to Mosul,” Thomas said. “They really intend to hold on there in some way, shape or form. And they have for years.”
Thomas said his forces can now go anywhere in the city, although some areas still are hostile. And forces have been able for the first time to establish joint security sites and combat outposts “literally in the heart of the enemy sanctuary,” stopping insurgents from planting bombs overnight and from establishing firing positions.
“I'm very comfortable that we have the upper hand and the initiative in the city right now, and it continues to get better every day,” he said.
Thomas said the fighting is not like what forces saw when clearing the city of Fallujah, but is steady and methodical. He predicted the combat operations will continue for at least a few more months, but noted reconstruction efforts already are in the planning stages. Mosul has borne the brunt of several years of combat and will need much infrastructure repaired or replaced. Roads pockmarked by bombings need to be repaved, and sewage and water systems need to be installed.
Funds from the 2008 Iraqi government budget and oil revenue earmarked for provincial reconstruction will pay for most of the construction, Thomas said. This is a shift from many provincial projects being funded by local U.S. commanders’ funds.
“We're truthfully a little more hesitant to apply U.S. taxpayer dollars when there are, in fact, Iraqi dollars to be spent for their own projects. So it's a good change in the paradigm here,” Thomas said.
Thomas has two Iraqi army divisions, about 20,000 soldiers, operating in his area. He also has 20,000 Iraqi police and a border force of about 3,500 in his area. The Iraqi forces increasingly are leading operations, although coalition forces still lead most missions.
“Three months ago, four months ago, we were more exclusively coalition-led and Iraqis supporting. We're slowly tipping that,” Thomas said. “We're probably at about the 80-20 measure right now of coalition- to Iraqi-led … operations. But you see that growing every day, and it's in line with the capability that the Iraqis are demonstrating.”
Multinational Division North is responsible for the seven northern provinces of Iraq, an area roughly the size of Georgia that includes about 12 million people. It consists of the provinces of Ninevah, Kirkuk, Salahuddin, Diyala and the three provinces of the Kurdish Regional Government of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulimaniyah.