Real newsI'm running behind the curve on the battle as it develops. However, here are some interesting things to note about how the fighting is going.
1. Bait and switch
Immediately prior to the offensive starting the northern and eastern flanks for Mosul were held predominantly by Peshmerga forces. They have been historically under trained and under armed. Much work has been done on both fronts recently but there was a general consensus that they were not going to spearhead the assault on Mosul, not least because leaving the Kurds in control of the city would be politically inconvenient.
Smart money, including mine, was that ISF would drive straight up the corridor from the south along the Tigris valley. This is partly because ISF are on the end of a long supply line from Baghdad but also because it allows them to use the full force of their regular army.
It is now clear that on 17 October ISF switched significant forces including CTS and US SF with tank support (IA) as well as US Apache attack helicopters to the eastern flank across the Tigris.
"The CTS’s positioning in Kurdish terrain is one of the results of a U.S.-brokered agreement between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi Government in August and will set the CTS up to breach Mosul’s city limits from the northeast."There appear to be around 100 US SF engaged with ISF and Peshmerga both as advisors and JTACs.
2. The Bridge
US engineers have helped the IA to build a floating bridge across the Tigris below Mosul. Here is a brilliant transcript of a press conference which is worth reading simply for fun. It also describes the building of the bridge which provides lateral mobility and allows the redeployment of troops to the eastern bank.
"The coalition provided significant training and logistics support to enable the ISF to accomplish these feats -- from the strategic left to bring in those bridges, to building a man-made lake at Camp Taji, so the ISF could rehearse the bridge installation tasks.
The bridge across the Tigris near Qayyarah was a significantly more difficult bridge to employ than the one in Ramadi, due to the size, speed and condition of the river and the enemy situation in the area.
COL. GARVER: The use of the bridge connecting the west and east sides of the Tigris, and connecting Qayyarah West air base and Makhmur will greatly improve maneuverability and shorten lines of communication for the ISF as they prepare for the eventual assault to liberate Mosul."
Extract from Press Conference3. Peshmerga
There is more than one sort of Peshmerga. I'll write more fully about this in due course. However, the Peshmerga forces closest to Mosul are those of the KDP. What is surprising is that forces of the PUK, a rival Kurdish political party, have been allowed to move into the southern area of the eastern back to support CTS in their clearance of the eastern bank.
The two key Peshmerga forces are Yakray 80 (KDP) and Yakray 70 (PUK). I estimate these at best as brigade sized units. It is rare to see both this level of offensive activity from the Kurds but also their close collaboration, although I suspect this is carefully choreographed by others.
4. Highway 2
The assault currently making good progress is that straight down Highway 2 from the east. My annotated Google map above shows very steady progress into the outskirts of Mosul. The forces on this axis appear to consist of Yakray 70, a brigade force from IA 16th Division plus CTS and US SF.
As with the Ramadi and Fallujah battles, ISF appear to be leaving an exit route for ISIS, in this case to the west into an unpopulated area. Also, as in previous battles, the objective may be to reduce resistance in the defended area and then allow air assets to destroy escaping ISIS forces.
5. Force estimates
AP estimates the forces involved to be:
ISF: 25,000, including Peshmerga, with 100 US SF.
ISIS: 1500 to 2500 in the outer defended balt around Mosul plus 3-5000 in Mosul itself. There is evidence that senior staff and specialists have already fled the area.
By the way, the BBC online news is excellent, as is AP's.