On Wednesday morning Jan 21st, Kurdish Peshmerga forces launched a wide-ranging offensive to reclaim a large area South of the Mosul Dam from Islamic State (IS) militant’s control.
Up to 5,000 Peshmerga participated in the offensive, including around 1000 volunteers, and were supported by International Coalition (IC) air strikes.
Peshmerga forces attacked ISIS positions from multiple locations Southwest and Southeast of the Mosul Dam.
According to press release from Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) as of Wednesday night Kurdish Peshmerga forces had successfully retaken 480 square kilometers from ISIS control, in a stretch of land measuring 40km wide by 12km deep.
Peshmerga forces reclaimed the strategically important Badush Heights, located immediately above Mosul’s main northern supply route, running between Tel ‘Afar and Mosul, significantly degrading ISIS’ capability to supply Mosul from the North, East and West.
In addition, Peshmerga forces expelled IS from the Wankie River, forcing IS to retreat South across the Tigris River towards Mosul and towards Tel ‘Afar.
In doing so, the Peshmerga have added strategic depth to their ability to defend Mosul Dam, a main IS target which accounts for most of Northern Iraq’s energy requirements.
ISIS suffered heavy casualties: the Peshmerga buried the bodies of over 200 IS fighters abandoned in the field by fleeing IS forces. Among them were a number of foreign fighters who appeared to be of East Asian and Chechen origin. Most of them were killed in fighting in and around the abandoned villages of Shahia, Ammar Bet, Karaj, Wanah, Tel Zahab, Kehrich, Mushrif Bet, Hozaima, Tel Khdr, Jemrood, Aski Mosul and Tel Rim.
The Peshmerga continue to clear the abandoned areas, which were heavily mined by IS using improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
On Wednesday night, the Chancellor of Kurdistan Region Security Council Masrour Barzani explained in a press conference: “We will allow locals to return only after the area has been cleared for their own safety”.
IS deployed 14 car bombs in a failed effort to halt the Peshmerga advance. All 14 attacks were repelled, with 11 destroyed by the Peshmerga and 3 by IC air strikes.
However, one of the car bomb attacks exploded close to the Peshmerga forces, wounding four Peshmerga.
A survivor described the incident: “The car came from behind a corner. By the time we could respond, it was so close. We were lucky to have been in an Armored Personal Carrier.”
Fighting has continued into the evening, with Peshmerga forces continuing to put pressure on IS, pushing them back towards Mosul.
Barzani emphasized that the purpose of the offensive was to disrupt ISIS, not to punish the population of Mosul, who were already being terrorized by extremists: “The Peshmerga do not target civilians”, stressing that there have been no civilian casualties caused by either the Peshmerga or IC air strikes.
Barzani sent a clear message of support to the people of Mosul, encouraging them to be proactive in opposing IS: “Do not join, do not support, do not listen to IS; tell your children not to join them. IS is an evil force that does no good for any community, any religion, any society”.
Finally Barzani said that the Peshmerga would continue to put pressure on ISIS, increasing their isolation in Mosul: “IS will feel the heat”.