By Emily Anagnostos and the ISW Iraq Team
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) launched operations to retake western Mosul on February 19. The ISF has not yet begun operations inside western Mosul city, focusing instead on isolating ISIS in Mosul by cutting off exits routes west of the city and setting conditions to breach the city limits through the southern airport.
The ISF launched operations on February 19 to recapture western Mosul after a three week operational reset following the recapture of eastern Mosul on January 24. The ISF has not yet entered western Mosul, and is continuing shaping operations south and southwest of the city. Units from the Federal Police and the Emergency Response Division (ERD) consolidated control over villages south of Mosul on February 19 and 20. The units reached the outskirts of the Ghazlani military base and Mosul airport on February 20 and began artillery strikes on February 21 on the airport and base in preparation to storm. Meanwhile, the 9th Iraqi Army Armored Division alongside a Hawza militia from the Popular Mobilization, Firqat al-Abbas al-Qitaliya (FAQ), began to close off western escape routes out of the city. The division will likely continue the current trajectory to isolate Mosul by heading north towards the Tigris River. The desert operations are also more suitable to the armored division, which would have trouble navigating western Mosul’s narrow streets. The units may ultimately enter the city, but moving from the outside in rather than the inside out.
Humanitarian conditions inside the city remain a concern as operations advance. The 16th Iraqi Army Division alongside police and local tribal fighters assumed control of security in eastern Mosul. The area has already suffered a series of suicide attacks over the past few weeks, suggesting that areas were insufficiently cleared or that ISIS already re-infiltrated the city. The UN announced on February 15 that it would temporarily pause humanitarian aid to the eastern half of Mosul because of the attacks. Meanwhile, the UN has also announced that food, fuel, and supplies are unable to reach western Mosul, distressing the humanitarian crisis for an estimated 750,000 civilians. The ongoing military operations are compounding these issues by further closing off possible access points for aid into the city. The ISF will need to prioritize efforts to secure the distribution of aid in both eastern and western Mosul and provide evacuation routes from western Mosul as the expected months-long operation will increase the severity of the humanitarian crisis.