ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—The Iraqi force tasked with liberating the city of Mosul from ISIS is overstretched, suffered great loss and exhausted and is putting a few hundred new recruits through a crash course for battle. That is the elite Golden Division.
The defeat of ISIS and its expulsion from the second largest city was entrusted to this force of 10,000 trained soldiers from Iraq’s different ethnic backgrounds. And they have been on the forefront since the offensive was launched on October 17.
The operation to retake this city is getting tougher over time, hampering the liberation and increasing the number of casualties of the Golden Division.
Furthermore, the US Central Command (Centcom) argues that the current success achieved in the fight to liberate Mosul “has come at a terrible price, one that could have dire consequences for Iraq in the long run,” said quoted by Politico.
The Golden Division commanders warn that they may eventually liberate Mosul but with a little force left in the end.
“If the war continues this way, we will lose many of our fighters by the time we have liberated the left side of Mosul,” warned a commander with the said division.
However, Major General Maan Zaid, a key commander with the given division, allayed fears of a potential Golden Division destruction by the end of Mosul war. “There are no wars without casualties. The operation to liberate Mosul will surely cost lives,” he explained.
ISIS is using modern weapons in Mosul, such as the anti-tank missile known as Kornet which has severely afflicted the Iraqi army.
“ISIS is using powerful weapons in this war. But our casualties are less than reported,” Zaid added.
The Iraqi Prime Minister has said on a few occasions that they will liberate Mosul this year. However, Zaid said, “It is difficult to predict with precision when Mosul offensive will finish.”
Zaid also said that they have inflicted heavy losses on ISIS, “1000 ISIS militants have been killed on the front I lead alone.”
Some in the division doubt this number.
“This war is strange. Sometimes we regain control of a complete neighborhood without seeing an ISIS body. We haven’t seen more than 5 ISIS bodies in each of the neighborhoods we have liberated so far,” a Golden Division soldier told Rudaw on condition of anonymity.
“The more neighborhoods we liberate, the more encircled ISIS will get, the more car bombs and suicide bombers they will send, and the more intense they will fight. The war will, therefore, get tougher. Mosul offensive needs strong warriors,” said a Golden Division commander on condition of anonymity.
“Put simply, the Golden Division’s fight for Mosul could go down in history as one of the greatest victories of the Iraqi government—and its last,” warned Mark Perry in an article published by Politico, How Iraq’s Army Could Defeat ISIS in Mosul – But Lose Control of the Country.
The United States 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division is advising the Golden Division in its push into Mosul. The US 101st Airborne Division first came to Mosul in 2003 under the command of Major General David Petraeus, and it is therefore familiar with Mosul.
Petraeus earned the nickname ‘King David’ from local Iraqis due to his successful handling of the situation on the ground in Mosul at the time. But today’s Mosul is different from 2003.
The Golden Division is reportedly two miles from the Tigris River that cuts the city in half.
The Golden Division soldiers say they fear civilian vehicles most due to uncertainties whether they are normal civilian vehicles or car bombs. “It’s happened on many occasions where ISIS had rigged civilian cars with explosives, abandoned them in residential areas, and detonated them near our advancing forces,” a soldier said.
Zaid said that the ISIS car bombs have been an obstacle for their advance into Mosul, “Over 900 suicide car bombs targeted our forces in the east of Mosul alone,” he explained.
“We knew the fight for Mosul would be tough,” a US senior Centcom officer had reported to Politico, adding, “but it’s been a lot tougher than anyone thought.”
“I had a good chuckle when I heard Ash Carter (the U.S. Secretary of Defense) say last week that ISIS’ ‘days are numbered,’” the Centcom officer had detailed, warning, “In fact, its months are numbered. This whole idea that the battle will be over by the time that Trump is inaugurated is a fantasy. This is going to go on for a long time.”
A senior Pentagon official privy to daily reports on Mosul offensive had also reported to Politico that the war to recapture the city of Mosul is so intense that the Golden Division’s veteran battalions “are suffering upwards of 50 percent casualties. If that rate stays constant,” he warned, “the division could become combat ineffective in a little over a month, and perhaps even sooner.”
Zaid agrees that the offensive is proving difficult, and that the Golden Division has had to adapt its war tactics many times due to its increasing number of casualties. But he also said that, “the Mosul offensive has not been slow. Rather, we have changed plans. We constantly get sent new fighters to replace those who lose their lives on the battlefield. We are now expecting many more well-trained fighters to arrive in Mosul in the coming days.”
This week, the Golden Division will reportedly get 353 fighters trained in urban warfare. In early 2017, 446 more Golden Division fighters will join a two-month long training program due to Mosul offensive being expected to be lengthy and requiring more manpower.
Zaid also denied that 50% of the Golden Division is now destroyed, “It is true that some of our armored vehicles have been destroyed by suicide car bombs. But new ones have been sent to us so we can continue the fight. I can say that 10% of our vehicles have been destroyed.”
By: Hevidar Ahmed and Rebwar Qasim
24 December 2016