ISIS won the city of Mosul in 2014. For the last seven months, Iraqi forces with U.S. support have been trying to retake it from ISIS fighters who are utterly outnumbered and have far inferior military weapons systems at their disposal (e.g. no air force or meaningful anti-aircraft resources, poor training for troops, and vulnerable supply lines).
U.S. military leaders say that the battle, begun in October, is nearing its end.
The Mosul fight is approaching its "final stages," Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition against the IS, told The Associated Press during a meeting with Iraqi military and civilian officials at a water treatment plant near the town of Hamam al-Alil.
"The world is now seeing that (Iraqi) soldiers are completely destroying Daesh," McGurk said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group that is also referred to as IS, ISIS and ISIL. He described the fight to retake Mosul, which was launched nearly seven months ago, as one of the most difficult urban battles since World War II.
But, about 200,000 people remain in ISIS controlled territory within the city. At least 12,000 civilians have been injured in the Mosul battle and treated in local hospitals. More than 400,000 Mosul residents have been displaced. Rebuilding costs once the battle is over are estimated at an eye popping $100 billion.
It is hard to tell, from afar, why this particular instance of urban warfare is so difficult in the face of an ISIS force that by all standard measures of military capabilities should be completely outmatched.
Are Iraqi tactics missing something important? Are Iraqi forces unwilling to show the commitment and make the sacrifices necessary to bring this battle to a more prompt end? Are key military resources available to the U.S. being withheld? Are ISIS insurgents just amazingly great? Or, it retaking territory in urban combat just that hard?
The answers will have to come from someone with better information about the detailed progress of the battle than I have available to me. But, clearly, this kind of urban warfare is one place where there is definitely room for improvement that calls for a Manhattan project class effort to improve our performance.