The Islamic State is shoring up its defenses in preparation for the invasion of west Mosul, which could be the terrorist group’s last major battle in Iraq.
Iraqi Security Forces seized eastern Mosul earlier in January after months of urban fighting. The city was once home to as many as 1.5 million people, and served as ISIS’s capital in Iraq since 2014. It is split in half by the Tigris river, with only five bridges connecting both sides of the city. ISIS is reinforcing areas around the bridges or intentionally damaging them in an effort to stop the Iraqi forces.
A report by strategic intelligence company Stratfor determined that ISIS “has rendered the structures almost impassable, making any attempt to cross the river a risky undertaking for Baghdad’s beleaguered forces.” Some of the initial damage, however, was a result of U.S. air strikes intended to stop ISIS from using the bridge while both sides of the city were under the group’s control.
“The operation succeeded in reducing the amount of men and material the jihadist group was able to dispatch to its fighters on the eastern bank, cutting off much-needed vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, reinforcements, and supplies,” said the Stratfor report. “Despite the level of firepower brought to bear, the United States made sure to disable the bridges in a way that allows them to be easily restored. This was achieved by striking the more accessible portions located on land.”
ISIS prevented bridge maintenance and destroyed middle sections, which are much more difficult to repair in the midst of a war zone. Stratfor reports the group has also begun destroying pilings on the western side of the bridges, which would require Iraqi forces to cross the river to repair them. ISIS has also dug in on the western bank of the river, using mortars to harass Iraqi troops on the other side.
“These measures will make transiting the Tigris — already a dangerous endeavor in the city’s urban terrain, where the eastern bank rests at a lower elevation than its western counterpart — even more treacherous,” the report said.