US advisers engaged ‘closer & deeper’ with Iraqi forces’ operation to retake western Mosul
“It is true that we're operating closer and deeper into the Iraqi formation, so we adjusted our posture during the east Mosul fight and we embedded advisers a bit further down into the formation,” Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told a news conference in Baghdad on Monday.
Defense Secretary Gen. Jim Mattis, a retired Marine general who led US combat forces during the Iraq War, arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit on Monday.
"The attack into the city is something I don’t want to go into details about because I owe confidentiality to the troops who are actually making the attack. At the same time, we are very close to it if not already engaged in that, in that fight," he said. "The US forces continue in the same role that they were in East Mosul and the coalition forces are in support of this operation, and we will continue as you know with the accelerated effort to destroy ISIS."
In recent weeks, some 450 US special forces have traveled with the Iraqis to direct airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) positions, and advise senior Iraqi commanders on how best to advance on the battlefield, Townsend, said, according to the LA Times.
On Sunday, Iraqi forces launched a major military operation to retake the western part of Mosul from the Islamic State terrorists. Iraqi aircraft dropped millions of leaflets in western Mosul, calling on residents to get ready to welcome the Iraqi troops as they continue the siege on the militants.
The greater US involvement could be “an attempt to ginger up the offensive on Mosul and bring this operation to an end” as it is taking far more time than it was expected, according to Chris Bambery, a political analyst.
“Really, this operation has to be brought to conclusion. Otherwise, both the Baghdad administration and the administration in Washington are going to end up with some egg on their face because we’ve heard so much talk that Mosul is about to fall, and we are still not there yet,” Bambery told RT.
Considering how close the US troops are to the frontlines, it won’t take long for them to get engaged in the battle.
“You are there in an advisory capacity supposedly, what happens if you come under attack? Obviously, you fight back,” he said, also stressing that this is how the US “got drawn in” into Vietnam.
The decision to send the US troops to the frontlines could bring many more casualties both among soldiers and civilians, Annie Machon, a former MI5 intelligence officer, said in an interview with RT.
“I think west Mosul will be an incredibly difficult nut to crack, because it’s a very ancient city, there are a lot of small alleys and armed vehicles can’t go down those narrow alleys. So, it’s very much going to be hand-hand urban fighting.
“There will be collateral damage, there will be civilian deaths,” Machon said.
Speaking to RT, Martin Jay, a Beirut-based journalist, has called the newest development “a turning point,” linking it with Trump’s geopolitical ambitions.
“If Trump wants to grab back some of the influence in the region from Iran, that means having a new relationship with Iraq and Prime Minister Abadi. That is one of the reasons why James Mattis is there on the ground. This is also due to local regional politics.”
Jay believes that President Trump “has banked on the Middle East being something quite quick and decisive,” but his international and domestic goals look quite unachievable.
“He has obviously gone for short, quick-term results which bring him public relations coverage that he needs,” Jay said.
A kind of “recalibration” of the boots-on-the-ground operation may be expected in the coming weeks, though, Jay also added.
However, if Trump goes on with the initial plan in Iraq and it succeeds, “you might see more American soldiers involved in the Syria offensive,” Jay said, adding, however, that “we won’t see numbers like we’ve seen in the Gulf War.”
Meanwhile, Lisa Grande, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, told RT that she is “deeply concerned” about the dire threat the civilian population faces as the offensive goes ahead into western Mosul.
“Even before the fighting began in many of the districts there was already a humanitarian crisis in western districts,” Grande said, referring to soaring food prices, the lack of electricity and medicine.