Assault on Mosul begins, presaging another defeat for ISIS

Iraqi forces have commenced an offensive to retake the city of Mosul, ISIS’s last main stronghold in Iraq. According to the Washington Post, the battle will be waged by tens of thousands of Iraqi troops, perhaps as many as 80,000.

The forces will consist of Kurdish peshmerga soldiers, Sunni tribal fighters, army, police, Shiite militias, and elite counterterrorism units. The U.S. will back their effort with air support and “advisers” on the ground.

The plan is for the Kurds to take the lead in the initial advance. As for the Shiite militias, they are are not authorized to enter Mosul, given fears about sectarian abuses in the majority Sunni city and how their advance would be perceived. We’ll see how that goes.

It seems almost certain that Mosul will fall. This will be a major defeat for ISIS. It was in Mosul, after all, that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the ISIS caliphate more than two years ago. Since then, ISIS has been driven from Tikrit, Ramadi, and Fallujah.

How quickly it will be driven from Mosul is unclear. Iraq’s prime minister has said the city will be liberated by the end of the year, but some doubt that this is possible.

Progress will be slow because ISIS has fortified its defenses of the city in recent months by erecting concrete blast walls, digging trenches, and setting booby traps and explosive devices. The fact that between 1.2 million and 1.8 million Iraqis are still in the city obviously will complicate the campaign.

Meanwhile in Syria, ISIS recently suffered an embarrassing set back. Its forces have fled from Dabiq.

If the name of this village sounds familiar, it’s because this was to have been the site of what the Post describes, based on ISIS dogma, as “an apocalyptic showdown between Christian and Muslim armies — an Islamic version of the battle of Armageddon that would herald the end of the world.”

Contrary to this vision, it was Muslim fighters — albeit backed by U.S. airstrikes — who confronted ISIS in Dabiq, causing its fighters to flee. Nor did the world end.

Not all of the ISIS related news is good, however. It’s well known that ISIS has become a substantial presence in Libya. Less known, perhaps, is its increasing success in the Sinai.

A few days ago, ISIS fighters attacked a military checkpoint in northern Sinai region, killing 12 Egyptian soldiers and wounding six more. According to the Post, Egypt’s Western allies are concerned about the regime’s ability to curb the Islamic State. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi concedes that the war against ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula will be a long and difficult one.

It seems clear, then, that ISIS remains a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East and North Africa. In addition, it has demonstrated the ability to commit or incite major acts of terrorism in Western Europe and the U.S.

That capacity won’t disappear with the fall of Mosul and Raqqa or with the defeat of ISIS in other outposts such as the Sinai Peninsula. But I have to believe that with each humiliating defeat ISIS suffers, its ability to attract recruits and inspire potential terrorists diminishes.

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