Nineveh (Reuters) Iraqi Special Forces battling to clear Islamic State from eastern Mosul have killed nearly 1,000 militants but fighting has slowed as troops face a mobile enemy hidden among thousands of civilians in the city, a top commander said.
Six weeks into a major offensive, Iraqi forces have captured nearly half of eastern Mosul, moving from district to district against jihadist snipers, suicide attackers and car bombs.
Elite Iraqi troops, known as the “Golden Division”, are the only brigades to have entered Mosul from the east, with Iraqi army, federal police and Kurdish Peshmerga units surrounding the city to the north and south. Shi’ite militias are trying to complete the encirclement from the west.
The U.S.-trained Counter Terrorism Service unit breached Islamic State’s defenses at the end of October, but has been slowed by the militants’ mobile tactics and concern over civilian casualties preventing the use of tanks and heavy armour.
Major General Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, one of the commanders of the Special Forces, said troops had adapted their tactics, surrounding one district at a time to cut off the militants’ supplies and protect civilians.
“Progress was faster at the start. The reason is we were operating before in areas without residents,” Asadi told Reuters in Bartella, on Mosul’s outskirts.
“We have arrived in populated districts. So how do we protect civilians? We have sealed off district after district.”
He said around 990 militants had been killed in fighting in the east so far. He would not say how many casualties there were among government special forces.
“We have made changes to plans, partly due to the changing nature of the enemy … Daesh (Islamic State) is not based in one location, but moving from here to there,” he said.
“Tanks don’t work here, artillery is not effective. Planes from the coalition force and the air force are restricted because of the civilians.”