Iraqi officials are never shy about talking up their military successes, and that has been especially true in the Mosul offensive, where they have regularly noted they are far ahead of schedule. The arrival of the first Iraqi troops into the outskirts of Mosul’s city limits was heralded as the start of the “true liberation.”
Iraq’s most elite fighters, the so-called Golden Division, has talked up their high morale, bragging that ISIS forces seem to be in full retreat as soon as they see them. That may, however, be the plan for ISIS, with reports that the fast advances and staggered pockets of resistance are stretching the forces thin.
ISIS is letting the Golden Division advance rapidly in some areas, and slowing their progress with IEDs and suicide car bombers in others. In some places, ISIS forces have hidden in tunnels and appeared behind the advancing troops. The Golden Division’s limited numbers have forced them to rely on the national police to hold territory that they have captured.
This is a familiar strategy for ISIS forces, particularly in Iraq, where previous offensives and counter-offensives have seen them withdrawing from some areas and reinforcing others specifically to widen the front lines, forcing the other side to spread themselves around.
And while there are a lot more troops attacking Mosul than in most previous cases, the number of actually well-trained, highly disciplined troops is relatively small. Indeed, Iraqi officials are already saying they are counting on local civilians to rise up against ISIS when they arrive, which has happened in some cases, but notably did not happen in other offensives against major cities, where the locals were more concerned with surviving in a warzone than convincing their “liberators” of their loyalty.