Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

So you want to take back Mosul from ISIS? Are you ready for a 10-year seige?

Best of Best Defense: Number 17 in our list of the most viewed posts of 2015. This post ran originally on December 2.

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Best of Best Defense: Number 17 in our list of the most viewed posts of 2015. This post ran originally on December 2.

By James R. Snoddy
Best Defense guest columnist

 

Best of Best Defense: Number 17 in our list of the most viewed posts of 2015. This post ran originally on December 2.

By James R. Snoddy
Best Defense guest columnist

There’s a lot of loose talk about “re-taking” Mosul. Here are my thoughts about how difficult it would be. In my non-General Officer, very tactical-level opinion, an assault on this place would turn into a ten year siege, perhaps longer.

My dour thoughts are inspired by my experiences fighting there. I served for a year in Mosul from 9/2005 to 8/2006 as an infantry Platoon Leader before ‘surging’ to Baghdad until December.  I owned the battle space on southwest side of the city (near FOB Marez): Tal al Ruman, the Dick Cemetery, Shit Creek, Al Amils #1 and 2.

My nightmare scenario is a door-to-door slog through the old city center. It is a warren of tight squeezes and hiding spots — no vehicular support there. The western desert is devoid of any cover or concealment. The berm ringing the city is tall and would be an impediment to dismounts and mounted troops alike. The enemy is dug in and not going anywhere.

We fought insurgents for months and we had ground superiority and three large bases (Courage, Marez, Diamondback) ringing the city, plus lots of police stations (5 West etc) and Iraqi Army posts. We also had SKTs (Small Kill Teams) set up for ambushes on hot corners. My brigade just missed the Battle for Mosul, fought by Deuce Four the previous spring and we heard the stories from those guys who did the battle handoff. It was unpleasant to say the least. Look at the stories from Fallujah — a city that is 20 percent the size of Mosul.

In short, though we owned the ground and the night, we were not able to deny the enemy freedom of maneuver because of the sheer size and type of urban terrain. And we had a brigade of infantry on the ground, the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

If I were in charge of taking back the city, I don’t think I’d risk dropping any SOF or spotters the night before my invasion. I’d rely on drones for my reconnaissance and spotting during my 36-hour artillery binge on the ring berm and other key targets.  Then I’d get a whole lot of helicopters and do a night air assault, probably with my back to the Tigris, and push west and east, with tanks coming from the northeast side.

After we pushed through, grabbed the squirters, and sealed Mosul off from the rest of the world, I’d settle in for a siege and a ten-year war of attrition. Some folks think we could starve them out. But it’s a big city and carpet-bombing is not an option. Smugglers exist everywhere. Resupply is not far away.  There are exurbs to the east (Bashiqa 15 miles) and west (Mawali 25 miles). Bashiqa is a Yzidi (or at least was) village and Mawali is Sunni. My battalion raided the latter village one night, with my platoon as the spearhead, and got two of three of our HVTs. For a village requiring a battalion sized raid, even nine years ago, there’s probably still a lot of anti-U.S. resentment and support for the bad guys — lots of prospects to help resupply. Then there’s Hamam al Alil 20 miles to the south, with river access, and a small garrison of IA (I think it used to house an IP school). Our line platoons rotated down there to command that garrison for a few weeks at a time — total vacation at COP Aggie in Hamam al Alil. Of course Dahuk and Turkey is a short drive to the north. Thus — there’s a lot of little hamlets ringing the city that can be used for resupply, enemy staging grounds, or worse.

James R. Snoddy is a former U.S. Army infantry officer who served as an infantry platoon leader from 9/2005 to 12/2006 in Mosul, Hamam al Alil, and Baghdad.

Photo credit: James R. Snoddy

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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