ARLINGTON, Va. — The commander of U.S. ground operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria warned today that the offensive to take back Mosul could spark a large attack by the terror group elsewhere in reaction to their land losses.
There’s precedent in the global attacks — including on home soil — launched during the battle in which ISIS lost another key Iraqi city.
Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of Combined Joint Forces’ Land Component Command for Operation Inherent Resolve and commander of the 101st Airborne, told reporters via video from Baghdad on Wednesday that he couldn’t give a timeframe for when forces would be in Mosul as he’d rather “under-promise and over-deliver.”
“I would just say tomorrow we’ll be a lot closer to Mosul than we are today,” Volesky said. “My concern is making sure that they’ve got the combat power, they sustain that combat power, and don’t go so fast that they start to, you know, give opportunity to the enemy.”
Peshmerga Command tweeted that the Kurdish forces today began “a major advance from three fronts in North and North East of Mosul.”
“The objectives are to clear a number of nearby villages and secure strategic areas to restrict ISIL’s movements,” the Pesh continued. “This operation follows recent gains by Peshmerga forces in East Mosul and advances by ISF in South Mosul.”
Iraqi and Peshmerga forces are being advised to advance in a way so that they don’t “have to turn around and go back and fight an enemy that has gone to ground and stayed behind,” the general said.
“Because that’s what we expect the enemy is going to do. I mean, we’re seeing it already in the Euphrates River valley. The enemy knows they’re losing. I mean, Baghdadi has said as much, you know, ‘We’ll go back out to the desert where we’ve traditionally been and wait.’ Well, he’ll get the opportunity to do that here in the next period of time,” Volesky continued.
“But I expect that they’re going to go into an insurgency mode and they’ll try to do these high-profile, spectacular attacks to draw attention away from the losses that they’re suffering. I mean, we’ve seen them do that before. When they lose terrain in Iraq, there’s — they try to do a spectacular attack to tell everybody, you know, they’re still a relevant organization.”
During the battle to retake Ramadi from ISIS, which the Islamic State lost in February, terrorist attacks attributed to ISIS included the October 2015 downing of a Metrojet flying from Sharm El Sheikh to St. Petersburg, the November terror spree by an ISIS cell in Paris, the December attack in San Bernardino, and the January attacks on a Starbucks and police station in Jakarta.
Volesky said the coalition is “not doing any detainee operations” for any ISIS fighters taken into custody during the battle for Mosul, but instructions are understood to “treat people with dignity and respect or the fight becomes much, much harder.”
Iraq will be responsible for keeping any captured ISIS terrorists.
The general confirmed that ISIS is using IEDs attached to drones — “really, a lot of commercial, off-the-shelf kind of things we’ve seen” — though they’re “clearly not the capacity or capability” that the coalition has. ISIS has used drones before to help film their propaganda videos.
“The other thing that we’ve seen that’s been a little bit different is the way they’re using their vehicle-borne IEDs. You know, we saw for the first time really yesterday where they used it to delay Iraqi security forces so they could withdraw. We hadn’t really seen that before. Normally, that’s been an offensive, you know, tactic — technique they’ve used to run VBIEDs in and make an impact,” Volesky said.
“So we’re starting to see them, you know, use that more in defensive ways, which really kind of reinforces the point that they are completely on the defensive and are just trying to hold on.”
Volesky said they’re also seeing more use of indirect fire. “Yesterday and the day prior, a lot more mortars, more rockets. We’ve been able to counter-fire pretty effectively. As you know, we’ve got artillery here, as well as HIMARS rockets, as well as our combat aviation and our close-air support folks are doing that,” he added.
He noted that Iraqi forces are getting more counterinsurgency instruction in U.S. training centers “so that they can be ready for it when the enemy transitions” to a terror group without a caliphate.
The general said the Iraqi forces got “needed” confidence from taking back Ramadi “and then you’ve see this drumbeat go.”
“Every time they take a piece of terrain away from ISIL, that’s a drumbeat,” Volesky said. “And that drumbeat is getting louder and louder every step they get closer to Mosul.”