According to a military statement in Baghdad, before dawn on Sunday 16 October the Iraqi army dropped thousands of leaflets over Mosul, warning residents that an offensive to recapture the city from the so-called Islamic State (IS) was in its final stages of preparation.
The leaflets carried several messages, in which one of them assured the population that advancing army units and air strikes “will not target civilians.” Another told civilians to avoid known locations of IS militants.
According to Iraqi government and military officials, the assault on Mosul, which is the last city that remains under the control of IS in Iraq, could begin this month with the support of a US-led coalition. IS fighters are dug in it is expected that they will fight hard for control of the city. Furthermore, in previous battles to defend territory, IS fighters have forced civilians to remain in harms’ way, often preventing them from escaping.
On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that he hoped that the United States and its allies would do their best in order to avoid civilian causalities in an attack on Mosul. Reflecting the growing concerns of authorities over a mass exodus that would complicate the offensive, the leaflets told residents “to stay at home and not to believe rumours spread by Daesh (IS)” to cause panic. Earlier this month, Iraqi officials launched a radio station in order to help Mosul residents stay safe during the offensive. The radio is broadcasting from Qayyara, a town located 60 km (about 40 miles) south of Mosul, where the army is massing forces ahead of the offensive.
Mosul, which had a pre-war population of around 2 million, is around 4 – 5 times th size of any other city captured by the militants so far. Last week, the United Nations stated that it was bracing for the world’s biggest and most complex humanitarian effort in the battle for the city, which could make up to 1 million people homeless and see civilians used as human shields or even gassed.
On Friday, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar warned the United Nations that the failure to fully implement a nationwide peace accord was helping al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS)-affiliated groups spread their influence in the West African country.
Speaking at a high-level meeting on Mali at the annual UN General Assembly, President Keita stated, “we have to admit that several factors are contradicting our will and effort,” adding, “in particularly the extension of terrorism and banditry and security of neighbouring countries because of the desire of terrorist groups affiliated to al-Qaeda and Islamic State seeking to expand.” The president further disclosed that Islamists were using the slow implementation of peace accords in order to “manipulate” and “destroy” links between different ethnic groups in Mali. One incident, a clash in the north that erupted earlier this week between pro-government Gatia milita and the Tuareg separatist Coordination of Azawad movements, has highlighted the fragility of the UN-backed deal, which was singed last year between the Malian government and northern armed groups. That agreement is meant to end a cycle of uprisings. Also speaking at the meeting was Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra, whose country is leading mediation efforts in Mali. Lamamra disclosed, “we must redouble our efforts,” adding, It’s terrible that signatories of the accord are involved in the fratricidal killings.” Meanwhile French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, whose country has thousands of troops deployed across West Africa in a bid to hunt down militants, disclosed that the security situation was “in general satisfying despite asymmetric attacks.”
UN peacekeepers are deployed across northern Mali with the aim of stabilizing the vast region, which was occupied by separatist Tuareg rebels and al-Qaeda-aligned Islamist militants in 2012, before France intervened the following years. Tit-for-tat violence between rival armed groups however has distracted the West African nation from fighting Islamist militants. Furthermore, the country has become the deadliest place for UN peacekeepers to serve. On Thursday, the international mediation team, which includes the UN, Europeans Union (EU), African Union (AU) and regional bloc ECOWAS, disclosed that it believed the situation could not continue without compromising the agreement. The international mediation team also threatened international sanctions on those responsible for blocking the deal’s implementation.
A United States Congressional report issued this month has found that the US Central Command’s analysis of the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) militants was too positive in 2014 and 2015, compared with events on the ground and other intelligence analysis. 2014 represented the height of IS’ rapid expansion as the militant group grabbed a swath of territory, effectively spreading from Iraq into central Syria.
The report was released by a task force that was established by the Republican chairmen of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, Intelligence Committee and Defense Appropriations subcommittee. It found “widespread dissatisfaction” amongst analysts at US Central Command who felt that their superiors wee distorting their products. In a statement, Republican Representative Ken Calvert, a member of the task force, discloses that “what happened at CENTCOM is unacceptable – our war fighters suffer when bad analysis is presented to senior policymakers. We must continue our efforts until we fix it.”
According to Patrick Evans, a Pentagon spokesman, the Department of Defense had initiated a separate investigation into the issue and would take no action or make any comment that could influence the inspector general’s work. As a general comment however, he stated that the intelligence community routinely provides a wide range of assessments, noting that “experts sometimes disagree on the interpretation of complex data, and the Intelligence Community and Department of Defense welcome healthy dialogue on these vital national security topics.”
While United States President Barack Obama was determined not to get into a full war in Syria and Iraq, statistics from the two-year campaign show that the war is far from over.
When the US-led coalition began bombing the so-called Islamic State (IS) group’s targets in Iraq and Syria, senior general and politicians warned at the time that it would be a “generational struggle” that would “last many years.” Two years on, that prediction has proved to be accurate and while the campaign has had its successes, it appears to be far from over.
More than 14,000 strikes have been carried out in the past two years at a cost of US $8.4 billion to the United States and US $365 million to the United Kingdom. In these strikes, some 26,000 targets have been either damaged or destroyed. Rather than lessening the campaign, officials have opted to step it up in its second year. In its second year, there have been 2,336 more airstrikes, which have also resulted in twice as many civilian deaths. According to a London-based monitor, called Airwars, 1,080 civilians have been killed. The Pentagon however assesses that only fifty-five civilians have been killed by US aircraft while the UK Ministry of Defense states that British airstrikes have not resulted in any innocent deaths. In Iraq, some 3.2 million Iraqis have been displaced, however the number of Syrians is considerably greater and this mass exodus has changed borders, swelled towns and emptied cities.
While when he first announced the airstrikes in 2014, President Barack Obama stated that he “…will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” that appears to have failed as there are currently some 3,800 US soldiers in Iraq. US, UK and French Special Forces are also operating in Iraq as well as in Syria. A further 400 American troops will also be deployed to an airbase south of Mosul to help the push on that strategic city.
In a nine-minute video posted on YouTube on Sunday, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group has called on its members to carry out jihad in Russia.
The video, which has subtitles, depicted footage of armed men attacking armoured vehicles and tens and collecting arms in the desert. One of the subtitles read, “breaking into a barrack of the Rejectionist military on the international road south Akashat.” In the last minutes of the video, a masked men driving a car in the desert yells “Listen Putin, we will come to Russia and we will kill you at your homes…Oh Brothers, carry out jihad and kill and fight them.”
While it was not immediately possible to independently verify the video, the link to the footage was published on a Telegram messaging account used by the militant group. Furthermore, while it was not immediately clear why Russia would be a target, the country, along with the United States, are talking about boosting military and intelligence cooperation against both IS and al-Qaeda in Syria. IS has called on its supporters to take action with any available weapons targeting countries it has been fighting.
Over the past several weeks, there has been a string of deadly attacks that have been claimed by IS. Last week, assailants loyal to IS forced an elderly Catholic priest in France to his knees before slitting his throat. Since the mass killing in Nice, southern France on 14 July, there have been four incidents that have occurred in Germany, including the most recent suicide bombing that occurred at a concern in Ansbach.