When the definitive history of how Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) was defeated is finally written, the events of this past week will deserve a chapter all of their own. In Iraq, it was the week that saw the allied forces finally begin their long and difficult assault on the city of Mosul, more than 20 months after it fell into the hands of the militants, while in Syria, forces loyal to the government of President Bashar Al Assad, assisted by heavy aerial support from Russian war planes, retook the ancient city of Palmyra.
Combined, these events show that Daesh, who spread across Iraq and Syria with lightning speed in the summer of 2014, is now firmly at the receiving end. But make no mistake — it is a miltant group that has shown itself reluctant to concede territory in its self-declared caliphate, and will fight viciously to hold on to its territorial gains. Indeed, its fighters ensured that the battle from Ramadi took weeks longer than expected. Yes, the softening up of targets and villages around Mosul itself has begun in earnest. Entering the suburbs and retaking the city will be a long, difficult and dangerous task. Every building will be fought for, every alley will see a bloody battle and undoubtedly, Daesh will have set mines and booby traps at every possible step to thwart and frustrate its enemies.
On Friday, the US Department of Defence said it was increasing its troops in Iraq and had established a forward operating base to direct firepower in the battle for Mosul. What is helping in Mosul is the greater coordination between air and ground troops, with air strikes limiting the ability of Daesh to regroup and fight cohesively. But no matter how good air cover is, the dirty work still has to be done on the streets of Mosul, with troops exposed to Daesh defences that have been well-organised during its reign of terror there.
In recent weeks too, US Special Forces, working with elite Iraqi troops on the ground — have provided key intelligence inputs that have allowed remote and manned air strikes to target key members of Daesh's leadership. The loss of the group's so-called minister of finance over the weekend and the confirmed death of a senior battle-hardened commander after an air strike in early March will help sow confusion and heighten fear among the group's fighters that it is a lost cause. And battlefield results reinforce that.
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