Since the situations in both Mosul and Aleppo are developing rapidly and I don’t feel like trying to come up with pithy titles for each frequent update, let’s just go with something bland and basic, OK?
Iraqi-led forces engaged Thursday in the most intense fighting yet in the battle to liberate the city of Mosul from two years of brutal ISIS rule, on day four of an offensive that’s been met with fierce resistance from ISIS fighters.
But with the clashes have come sweeping gains — the coalition has now recaptured at least 100 square kilometers of territory, a CNN analysis of the battlefield shows.
Iraqi Maj. Gen. Maan al-Saadi said 200 ISIS fighters were killed as Iraqi forces took the Christian town of Bartella from ISIS militants, the latest territorial win for a coalition of around 100,000 people quickly closing in on Mosul.
I’m sure people are interested in seeing maps, but things are moving so fast it’s hard to get a good snapshot. Still, this isn’t bad:
Whatever concerns about the Iraqi army’s role in the operation seem also to have been allayed, as Iraqi Special Forces took part in the operation for the first time in seizing the village of Bartella, only ~8 miles east of Mosul. Those forces then joined with the Kurds in a push toward Bashiqa, a short distance to the north. The approach to Bashiqa will, of course, bring these forces into contact with the fighters being trained near Bashiqa by Turkey, and their Turkish trainers. Given the rhetoric bouncing between Ankara and Baghdad over the presence of those Turkish forces in Iraq, it’s very unclear how this encounter is going to go.
In Aleppo, the promised “humanitarian ceasefire” does seem to have been implemented, and Russia even announced a 24 hour extension, ostensibly to allow more time for evacuating sick and wounded people. However, this is a humanitarian pause only insofar as people are being allowed to leave the city and go either into government-held territory or to rebel-held Idlib–it will not, at least at this point, be accompanied by any aid convoys in to eastern Aleppo. Some people do seem to be availing themselves of the chance to get out of the city, but many more seem to be defiantly staying put (or, possibly, are being held there by the rebels–I’ve seen reports on Twitter saying that rebels have been shelling the corridors that were opened for people to leave).
I argued yesterday that there’s a slim chance this ceasefire could be a good thing if it allows time for efforts to disentangle extremists in the city from everybody else. But it seems far more likely that the aim here is to create the conditions under which Russia and Syria can say “hey, you had your chance” before they resume slaughtering however many people remain in Aleppo once the corridors are closed up again. If the aim is to identify and isolate the hardcore extremists among the ranks of the rebel fighters then it’s going to take a long-term, internationally-monitored cessation of hostilities to do it. A ~30 hour, unilaterally imposed ceasefire won’t come close to cutting it, but it could be a bit of a fig leaf for Moscow and Damascus to put on before the intense bombing resumes again.