Iraqi security forces, with the help of the US-led coalition, moved into the city of Mosul Tuesday morning for the first time since operations began.
Security forces encountered heavy fighting from ISIS militants that included snipers, landmines, tunnels and road-blocking boulders that they had set up to block coalition forces.
The battle inside the city of Mosul could take months and is expected to include house-to-house fierce fighting between Iraqi security forces and ISIS militants.
The liberation for Mosul will be grueling and bloody but a possibly even more difficult battle for what happens after liberation lies ahead. Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city and is predominately Sunni Arab but also consists of Kurds, Shi’as, Turkmens, Yezidis, Christians and other ethnic groups.
The Obama administration decided to launch the Mosul offensive prematurely without properly planning for the day after liberation and who will ultimately govern the city.
Kurdish President Masoud Barzani warned last week that if Mosul is not administered well after liberation it will become the birthplace of another terrorist group. He said, “We had Al Qaeda in Iraq yesterday, we have ISIS today and tomorrow we will have another group if Mosul is not going to have a good administering system.”
Kurdish political and military leaders discussed breaking Mosul up into four sections between the different ethnic groups with each section having different leadership. One senior Kurdish military leader stated that if they do not have a plan and break up Mosul into various sections there will be more trouble after liberation than before.
On Saturday, Iranian-backed Shiite militias under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) entered the fight and moved into the town of Tal Afar, which is a strategic route for ISIS fighters to travel between Raqqa, Syria to Mosul. Militias under the PMF consist of groups that are responsible for killing American troops during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
One of the militias under the PMF are the Hezbollah Brigades, or Kata’ib Hizballah, an official U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization that according to the State Department is “responsible for numerous acts against Iraqi, U.S., and other targets in Iraq since 2007. The State Department states that, “Kata’ib Hizballah is a radical Shia Islamist group with an anti-Western establishment and jihadist ideology that has conducted attacks against Iraqi, U.S. and Coalition targets in Iraq”.
U.S. officials have stated that they are not providing any air support for the PMF and their operations in Tal Afar, but reports and videos show US weapons, arms and vehicles being used by the Iranian militias, including the Hezbollah Brigades.
The United States government has provided billions of dollars to the Iraqi security forces since 2003 and reports state that the major beneficiaries of the weapons deliveries have been to the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces.
Due to the presence of Iranian-backed militias, Turkey’s military on Tuesday began deploying tanks and armored vehicles to the town of Silopi near the Iraqi border. Reuters reported Turkey had “no obligation” to wait behind its borders and would do what was necessary if Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants took a foothold in northwest Iraq’s Sinjar region.
The PKK, a U.S. designated terrorist organization helped with the liberation of the Yezidis in Sinjar Mountain from ISIS in 2014 and now currently have several fortified bases on Sinjar Mountain and inside Sinjar City. The PKK are also backed by Iran and coordinate with other Shiite militia groups fighting in Mosul.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted on playing a role in operations, stating that Turkey has a “historical responsibility” in the region and has threatened to use military force if not allowed to participate in the Mosul operations. Erdogan revealed in a recent speech his belief in Turkey’s claim to Mosul going back to the end of the Ottoman Empire and WWI when new lines in the Middle East were redrawn.
Turkey, a NATO ally, currently has around 500 soldiers in northern Iraq where they have been training Sunni Muslim and Kurdish Peshmerga units, including a militia led by the former governor of Mosul, Athed al-Nujaifi. Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi has called on Erdogan to leave northern Iraq and has warned that Turkey risked triggering a regional war.
Another concern for the United States after Mosul is retaken is the threat of ISIS militants launching attacks in the United States, on our own soil. FBI Director James Comey warned a Senate Homeland Security Committee last month saying we needed to "be prepared" for a kind of "terrorist diaspora" on American soil.
Director Comey warned the Senate Committee of a wave of terrorist fighters who will spread across the globe as the group loses control of its territory on the ground.
He said, “they will not all die on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq. There will be a terrorist diaspora sometime in the next two to five years like we’ve never seen before”. He said the wave of fighters will be “larger than the one that came out of Afghanistan after the war there in the 1980s.”
Lt. General Stephen Townsend and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter reiterated this warning telling reporters last week that ISIS is planning additional "significant" external operations against the West from Raqqa, Syria, which is why they want to focus on retaking Raqqa soon to disrupt any plans.
Due to the failed leadership under the Obama Administration and an ineffective strategy, ISIS has had two years to prepare for the Mosul offensive. Disturbing reports are that ISIS militants are currently using tens of thousands of civilians as human shields to protect themselves from Iraqi and Peshmerga forces. An aid agency warned Wednesday morning that the lives of more than 1 million civilians that are trapped inside Mosul are in “grave danger” and the “future of all of Iraq is now in the balance.” The United Nations reported that an estimated 48,000 men, women and children have been forcibly relocated into Mosul by ISIS militants to be used to discourage military action against the city.
Since ISIS took control of Mosul in 2014, they have brutally and inhumanely killed anyone that stood in opposition to them. ISIS fighters have killed scores of people since the Mosul offensive started. ISIS militants reportedly shot to death over 200 former members of the Iraqi security forces last Wednesday and are shooting civilians on the spot who refuse to comply with them.
The destruction to the ancient city of Mosul under ISIS control is devastating. Since controlling the city in 2014, ISIS militants have destroyed ancient sites including the Monastery of Elijah, 1,400 years old and one of the oldest Christian sites in Iraq. ISIS destroyed the Mar Behnam Monastery that was established in the 4th century. They destroyed the tombs of the Biblical prophets of Jonah and Daniel. They have destroyed thousands of books and manuscripts from the Mosul library. ISIS did all of this with absolutely no response from the Obama Administration.
The next administration will be responsible on day one to address the aftermath of the liberation of Mosul and the escalating sectarian divisions throughout the Middle East.
The choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump couldn’t be clearer. Hillary Clinton has a track record of emboldening Iran and other radical Islamic terrorists, politicizing the sacrifice of our troops for her own political self-interests, she dreams of “open borders” and will increase Syrian refugees by 550 percent. And she wants to implement a no-fly zone in Syria that will lead us into another world war.
Donald Trump has laid out a plan to secure our borders, suspend refugees coming in from terrorist prone countries, building up our military capabilities and he will work with our Arab and NATO allies to defeat radical Islamic terrorism.
Lt. General (Ret.) Michael T. Flynn spent 33 years as an intelligence officer. He served as the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Senior Military Intelligence Officer in the Department of Defense. He is the founder of the Flynn Intel Group, a Commercial, Government, and International consulting firm. He is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller, co-written with Michael Ledeen, of "The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies" (St. Martin's Press, July 12, 2016).