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'Gut-Busting' Fighting in Mosul as ISIS Increases Use of Human Shields

ARLINGTON, Va. — Iraqi forces have been making “incremental progress” in their fight to retake west Mosul as ISIS has increased its use of human shields in their last stand.

East Mosul was liberated in January, in the operation that began in October. Iraqi Christians around Mosul celebrated Palm Sunday for the first time in three years, including at a church burned by ISIS in Qaraqosh.

Mosul west of the Tigris river is smaller but more densely populated, including the narrow streets of the old city. Security forces have faced a painstaking job of clearing the city of ISIS while trying to avoid civilian casualties.

Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters today via video from Baghdad that ISIS “has intensified their exploitation of civilians by moving them in larger numbers into harm’s way.”

More than 300 square miles have been cleared since west Mosul operations began mid-February, he said.

“The Iraqi security forces retain control of both main routes west from Mosul, eliminating enemy freedom of movement,” he added. “This enemy in Mosul is not going anywhere.”

Dorrian said ISIS is using “no single tactic” to slow Iraqi forces’ progress: “They have a layered defense and they’ve had two years to build it.”

“Unfortunately, one of the ones that’s most problematic and difficult is their use of human shields. They’ve intensified their efforts to bring civilians into harm’s way. This is something that is a despicable and cowardly tactic,” he said.

“But make no mistake, they had two years-plus to dig elaborate defenses, use commercial off-the-shelf drone technology, we’ve seen them use snipers, we’ve seen them use [vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices] and now, as we move into this very dense urban terrain on the west side of Mosul where the, you know, roads may not even really be qualified as what most reasonable people would call a road, they’re so narrow that it channelizes the advance for the Iraqi Security Forces.”

The combination of “explosives, booby traps, snipers, the use of civilian shields,” he emphasized, “just makes it very slow and difficult going.”

“The Iraqi Security Forces continue their advance but it’s very, very difficult and it’s just going to remain so for awhile,” Dorrian added. “We’re going to keep working through that. With each passing day the number of ISIS fighters in Mosul goes down, the amount of resources they have available to continue their mayhem goes down and, ultimately, they are not going anywhere and they are going to be defeated.”

The spokesman said “incremental” to describe the slow, careful progress is simply “an accurate discussion of what’s happening.”

“The Iraqi security forces do continue to advance. So we knew that it was going to be very difficult. We’ve been saying for months that the enemy has had an opportunity to dig elaborate defenses, that it was going to be very hard. We’ve said for many months that as we got into the old part of the city, the dense urban terrain there, that it would be extraordinarily difficult,” Dorrian continued.

“And what we’re seeing is exactly what we expected to see. So, I’m just trying to give you an accurate description of what’s happening. I don’t want to say that, hey, they continue to advance at pace, when in reality it’s very, very slow and very, very hard. And it’s gut-busting difficult fighting between our forces and theirs.”

Dorrian would not offer a timetable for the defeat of ISIS in Mosul.

“But our forces and the Iraqi security forces continue to make progress,” he said. “It’s very slow. It’s very tough. One of the reasons for that is because we want to do it in a manner that protects civilian life. Prime Minister Abadi has been very clear on that. And it’s been an enduring principle of the campaign throughout.”

“So, if it has to be done slow, that’s how it’s going to be done.”