Erbil – The Iraqi security forces attempted to seize the al-Salem hospital in eastern Mosul on Wednesday amid raging conflict with Islamic State group (ISIS) in the city. The US-led coalition hit the hospital in renewed airstrikes on Wednesday, saying the hospital was an ISIS base and that no civilians were targeted.
ISIS was using the hospital as a base for operations and command and control headquarters, the coalition said in a statement obtained by ARA News.
After being hit by ISIS’ heavy machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire in a building on the hospital complex, the Iraqi forces requested immediate support from the coalition.
“In support of the Iraqi Security Forces, Coalition aircraft conducted a precision strike on the location to target enemy fighters firing on Iraqi forces,” the US-led coalition said.
“The Coalition complies with the Law of Armed Conflict and takes all feasible precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to non-combatants. We will continue to strike ISIS military targets in support of our partners in order to defeat ISIS in Iraq,” the coalition said in a statement.
Mosul is the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Iraq. The group took over the city in June 2014, and immediately afterward announced its self-proclaimed Caliphate.
On October 17, the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga launched a major operation to liberate Mosul city and its surroundings. According to military sources, more than 2,200 ISIS militants have been killed so far.
The Iraqi Army’s 16th Infantry Division, backed by Counter-Terrorism Units, gained more ground in Mosul city on Tuesday. Iraqi forces have reportedly captured 24 neighborhoods in the war-torn city, forcing the Islamic State back towards the downtown core.
“The Iraqi Army now controls 50% of Mosul city,” reported Haidar al-Khalidi, a journalist inside Mosul. “The army has also tightened the siege on the ISIS-held downtown districts.”
Al-Khalidi told ARA News that ISIS is impeding the army’s advance by using civilians as human shields. This tactic has “prevented the army from using its heavy weapons during the clashes.”
“ISIS is using residential buildings as bases for its attacks on the Iraqi forces. Many civilians are located in Mosul’s ISIS-held districts. [They’re] being used as human shields,” al-Khalidi reported.
According to Michael Stephens, the head of the Royal United Services Institute–Qatar, there are a few reasons, mostly tactical decisions taken early on in the campaign, which have led to too many civilians being present in areas of heavy fighting. This has severely limited the ability of the Iraqi forces to use artillery and call in air power.
“Additionally, ISIS militants are well dug in, moving in amongst houses and launching traps and huge numbers of suicide bombers to slow down the advance. To date, ISIS has utilized some 600 suicide bombers to defend Mosul which gives them tactical advantage in small enclosed areas,” Stephens told ARA News.
“There is little doubt that the fight ISIS has put up is more than was expected. The problem is made worse by the lack of available forces that can successfully close the noose around Mosul and get ISIS to divert resources away from defending the eastern side of the city,” he said.
“As such, it’s placing undue pressure on those units operating in the eastern neighbourhoods of Mosul, hugely slowing down the advance,” he said.
Nicholas Heras, a Washington-based Middle East researcher at the Centre for a New American Security, agreed with Stephens. “ISIS fighters are providing far greater resistance inside the city than the Coalition expected,” Heras told ARA News.
“The Coalition, Baghdad, and the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] will also be very cautious with the campaign plan to take the more densely populated districts of Mosul, fearing an even greater outflow of refugees from the city,” he said.
“With winter approaching, the humanitarian pressure on the KRG and other areas of Nineveh and further into Iraq could be catastrophic,” Heras concluded.
Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg and Ahmed Shiwesh | Source: ARA News
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