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U.S. General: Iraqis Prove to be 'Formidable Fighting Force' with 'Monumental Achievement' in Mosul

Iraqi Army soldiers celebrate with residents of liberated neighborhoods as they hold upside down a captured flag of the Islamic State in eastern Mosul, Iraq, on Jan. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq praised Iraqi security forces for the “monumental achievement” of clearing Mosul of ISIS east of the Tigris river, one “that would have been a difficult task for any army in the world.”

“There is still a difficult fight ahead in western Mosul, but the ISF has proven that they are both a professional and formidable fighting force,” Gen. Joe Martin, commander of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command, told reporters via video link from Baghdad today.

Martin said that as Iraqi forces have liberated hundreds of thousands of civilians since the battle for Mosul began in mid-October, ISIS has cut their fighters’ pay and is relying on “much less sophisticated” vehicle-borne IEDs to attack Iraqi forces.

“Daesh is increasingly unable to respond to the Iraqi security forces’ pressure from multiple directions,” the general said. “I know most of you are interested in how long it’s going to take to liberate the rest of Mosul. The truth is we don’t know. What I do know is that the Iraqis have made significant progress in retaking a city about the size of Philadelphia, in a fight that would be difficult for any army to execute.”

“Mosul is about 145 square kilometers. It’s got a population of 1.2 million people. It has over 200,000 structures and almost 3,000 kilometers of road to clear. It’s the hardest door-to-door fighting the world has seen in recent history.”

Martin added that the Iraqi forces have taken “great care” to avert civilian casualties, even as ISIS take cover in places such as schools and hospitals.

“As we talk about sustained success, it’s important to understand the success that the Iraqi security forces have had over the past two- plus years. Think about it. Since September 2014, when the enemy was essentially at the gates of Baghdad, they’ve liberated over 2.4 million people; regained tens of thousands of square kilometers of ground; and liberated hundreds of towns and villages,” he said. “The Iraqi security forces have also secured vital resources, including the Mosul Dam, the Qayyarah oil fields, and the Baiji refinery. And at the same time, the coalition has trained 11 brigades, more than 40 battalions.”

Currently, the advise and assist role of the United States is unchanged.

The general said the hold force in eastern Mosul is “a multiple brigade and multiple battalion, multiple cohort force that the Iraqi security force commander has picked himself to go in there.”

Kurdish Peshmerga forces “did a magnificent job setting conditions for the Iraqi security forces to continue the attack in Mosul and they remain at that limit of advance” outside the city, he added.

The coalition has been able to strike some groups of ISIS fighters trying to flee across the Tigris in boats.

“We see the enemy’s capacity continue to wane. The sophistication of its weaponry continues to become lower and lower,” he continued. “These are all indicators of an enemy that’s on the run, and with that, we take every opportunity we can to relentlessly pursue them with air strikes, to continue to shape conditions while the Iraqi security forces conduct their transition from one side of the city to the other.”

But, ISIS will “continue to demonstrate that there’s no limitation to their despicability as they use the population as human shields.”

Martin said ISIS is like “a parasite: if you think about a locust does when it comes into a crop and strips it — strips it of everything that’s worth anything on that crop, that’s what they’re doing to the infrastructure in Mosul.”

Iraqis have been tweeting photos of life slowly returning to normal in liberated eastern Mosul, from kids returning to school to favorite restaurants getting back to business to a wedding.