US special forces come to Mosul frontline – media
“US special operators were at the front line on the edge of Mosul,” Stars and Stripes, an official newspaper of the US Army, said earlier this week. The American forces reportedly aided Iraqi elite troops who were preparing to enter the IS stronghold.
“The Americans wore black uniforms and drove black armored vehicles,” outside the village of Gogjali, the outlet reported. By wearing the same uniforms the US special troopers “blended” with Iraqi forces from the Washington trained Golden Division.
Some of the American special operators had “skull and crossed swords patches” while a sign on one of the helmets said “Hippie Killer.” According to Stars and Stripes, none of the US soldiers was allowed to speak to the media and also asked that no pictures of them be made. US military engineers wearing insignia of the 101st Airborne Division have been meanwhile spotted near the city Erbil, east of Mosul, the outlet added.
There have been more reports pouring in on the alleged US military engagement in the fight to retake Mosul from the Jihadists. Inside Syria Media Center, a website dedicated to news and opinion regarding the ongoing conflict in Syria, alleges that some 500 US elite troopers have been dispatched to Mosul, aided by Apache combat helicopters and Chinook transport.
Citing its sources in Iraq, the outlet claims that American special operators have been spotted at the forefront among Iraqi and Kurdish fighters, acting as “infantry soldiers.”
There is no official confirmation whether the US special forces are indeed conducting any combat activity at the frontline near or inside Mosul. However, on October 17, the very day when the operation started, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook admitted that US troops will take part in liberation of Mosul in a supportive role.
"There are Americans in harm's way as part of this fight. They're in a support role," Cook said. "It's fair to say there are Americans on the outskirts of the city," the official went on to say, not specifying the exact number of troops or their respective units. Cook went on to say that despite the role of US troops “they are behind the forward line of [Iraqi] troops" which are actually leading the fight.
According to CNN, citing a military source there are currently 100 US elite soldiers in Iraq. Yet on October 8, Debka files (an Israeli news outlet affiliated with the country’s intelligence), said that at least 600 “elite US troops” have been amassed in the Mosul region. It added that a total of 12,500 American servicemen were “assigned for the offensive”, presenting what the outlet called the largest US force in Iraq since 2007.
On Sunday, Iraq’s forces were scouring for terrorist hideouts and booby traps while clearing the eastern neighborhoods of Mosul, AP reports. Al Jazeera also said that Iraqi army entered residential areas in the north of the city for the first time. The offensive has slowed down over the past days as the Iraqi army and militia are reaching densely populated areas of the city.
“This is one of the hardest battles that we've faced till now,'' Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Timimi told AP. “Daesh [ISIS] dug trenches that they filled with water and they have a lot of suicide attackers and car bombs.'' Terrorists are also using civilians as human shields in a bid to hamper the offensive.
Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, has a remaining population of some 1.3 million people and is under the control of Islamic State since 2014. Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops as well as various militias are taking part in the operation to retake the city, backed by a US-led international coalition.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, called the Washington-backed operation a “medieval slaughter.”
"The counter-terrorist operation carried out by the major powers of the 21st century turned into a medieval slaughter, which primarily affected the civilian population,” Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page. The official slammed the international coalition for not providing enough information on “what’s going on” in the city, including on the casualties.
In October, the UN warned that the military offensive against IS jihadists in Mosul could lead to up to 1 million people fleeing their homes.
Advisors or combatants?
According to the Washington Post’s estimates, the US currently maintains some 6,000 troops in Iraq, who are said to be mostly advisors helping to train the country’s army and police.
Yet speaking to RT, political commentator Marwa Osman said that despite labelling the personnel as “assistants,” those people are in Iraq to fight.
“Now there is a total of 6,000 US troops inside of Iraq, whether they [US officials] call it consultants or army personnel … they are there to fight,” Osman said.
She also noted that the news of US military doctors being on the ground in Iraq might also point at the risks of American forces getting injured in the fighting.
Expert on Middle East affairs Ali Rizk told RT that the diving line between the advisors and actual military combatants "is very blurry." And if indeed the US special forces are engaged on the frontlines, that's a sign of Washington trying to manage the situation in Mosul the best it can, Rizk said.
"Maybe there is an attempt by the Americans that this particular mission in Mosul goes ahead in accordance with their wishes."
Rizk also believes that with a broader military engagement in Mosul, Obama was "pushed" to effectively "score some points in Iraq against Daesh [ISIS]."