Recently released figures paint a grisly picture of the butcher’s bill paid by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), allied Kurdish Peshmerga and Iran-backed Shia jihadists as the third month of fighting for Iraq’s northern city of Mosul continues.
According to figures released by Amaq news agency, closely linked to the Daesh extremist group, the militants have managed to exact a devastating death toll on US and Iran-backed forces, totalling to 1,520 men lost in the third month of combat alone.
Daesh have also claimed to have killed 170 soldiers in sniper attacks, in addition to carrying out 58 suicide bombing missions leading to the destruction of 11 tanks and dozens of other vehicles used by the ISF and allied forces.
The militant group’s suicide bombings are usually vehicle-borne in specially designed vehicles to prevent them being taken out before they reach their targets. Analysts have described these car bombs as Daesh’s version of airstrikes, due to the devastating carnage they cause.
If accurate, the third month’s figures now mean that total Iraqi losses have now reached 6,491 over three months of fighting in Iraq’s second largest city, held by the extremist group since June 2014.
The Iraqi government has consistently failed to release casualty figures.
First month figures confirmed by UN
Amaq released its tally for the first month of fighting in November, claiming to have slain 2,671 Iraqi soldiers and conducted 124 suicide bomb attacks.
By the end of November, MEMO reported that Daesh had released an infographic showing that it had inflicted a further 1,000 casualties, pushing the overall death toll suffered by Iraqi and allied forces to over 4,000.
These figures were largely confirmed by the United Nations, who described the death toll as “staggering”. The UN’s figures showed that Iraqi forces had lost almost 2,000 men in November and a further 672 in October.
In response to fury from Baghdad that the UN had more or less confirmed that Daesh’s figures were accurate, the United Nations announced shortly thereafter that it would no longer be publishing casualty figures.
Though the United Nations ceased publication of its casualty figures that suggested Daesh’s numbers were not exaggerated, the militant group themselves have issued weekly as well as monthly round-up figures.
The second month’s figures suggested that Iraq’s forces had suffered losses just shy of 5,000 men. However, Daesh’s third month figures shows a reduction in the number of fatalities suffered by the ISF, and this could possibly be due to greater US military assistance on the ground.
Apart from those killed in suicide bombing missions, Daesh have not released figures of their battlefield losses, but it is believed that they started the fight for Mosul with some 5,000 men.
Iraqi special forces suffer ‘50 per cent’ attrition
The fighting in Mosul has proven to be some of the most deadly yet faced by Iraqi forces, now attempting to prise Iraq’s second city from the control of Daesh. The militant group has held the city since it ran the ISF out almost three years ago.
Last month, Politico’s Mark Perry cited several senior US officials as giving concerning accounts of how they perceive the fighting in Mosul.
Citing a senior CENTCOM official, Politico reported that Daesh had conducted over 600 suicide bombing attacks since the operation began.
This, however, would seem to be at odds with Daesh’s own figures of 215 bombings between 17 October and 17 December. As Daesh takes pride in these operations, it is unlikely that they would underreport their own attacks, suggesting the US-led Coalition is overestimating.
Politico also quoted a Pentagon officer with access to daily battle reports on the Mosul offensive as saying that the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), also known as the “Golden Division”, had suffered a force attrition of 50 per cent.
“If that rate is constant, the division could become combat ineffective in a little over a month, and perhaps even sooner,” the Pentagon official said at the time. Due to these losses, the Iraqi army has been more involved to relieve the CTS forces who have suffered crippling losses.
Daesh force Iraq into a war of attrition
Daesh has not only led a tenacious and dogged defence of its last major urban stronghold in Iraq, but has also launched raids against towns and cities around the country.
Days after the Mosul operation began, Daesh struck the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in a surprise attack that forced the city to shut down for several days, killing dozens of Kurdish security personnel. Kirkuk is 170 kilometres southeast of Mosul.
Not long after, the militants demonstrated that their reach could still extend as far as Rutba in Iraq’s western Anbar province, more than 600 kilometres away from the frontlines in Mosul. The assault was so ferocious that they actually held the town for three days before being forced out.
In early November, the militants struck Shirqat, 100 kilometres south of Mosul, more than two months after the Iraqi military had apparently liberated it to much fanfare as a stepping stone on the road to Mosul.
In conjunction with the sheer intensity of attacks in Mosul itself and the casualties sustained there, the Iraqi military has now had to enter into an “operational refit”, according to a senior US general interviewed by Reuters last month.
“This is an operational refit. This sets the conditions for continued progress by the ISF and their plan…to liberate Mosul,” said US Air Force Brigadier-General Matthew Isler.
Commenting on Iraqi combat operations that have now seemingly ground to a halt, the general said that “every day is different and has those unique challenges. It also means that in each of those days and challenges you have to sustain your forces.”
Iraq has brought to bear 100,000 men to retake Mosul, compared to around 5,000 Daesh fighters. Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi vowed to retake the city by the end of 2016, but has failed in his promise, now saying that the operation will last until spring this year.