As the operation to recapture Mosul from the Daesh militant group continues into its fifth month, Amaq news agency, linked to the militants, released yet another summary of the fighting, this time showing a marked decrease in Iraqi casualty figures.
According to Amaq, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), allied Shia jihadists and Kurdish Peshmerga militias have suffered fatalities of 530 men, a considerable reduction in Daesh’s figures over the previous three months.
Amaq released these statistics on 19 February via social media networks, including Telegram and Twitter, and this is in line with the extremist organisation’s standard practice of publicising its statistics since the Mosul operation began on 17 October last year.
Tracking Daesh statistics
The Iraqi government refuses to release any casualty figures, but the United Nations all but confirmed Daesh’s first month numbers, leading to angry backlash from Baghdad causing the UN to cease publication of its monthly casualty reports.
After the first month of fighting concluded, Daesh released its tally in November, claiming to have killed 2,671 Iraqi soldiers and having conducted 124 suicide bomb attacks.
The United Nations then described the death toll as “staggering”, and largely confirmed the number of fatalities caused by Daesh militant activity since the campaign began. The Iraqi government reacted angrily, causing the UN to discontinue publishing reports that appeared to corroborate Daesh’s figures.
Daesh’s second month figures suggested that 2,300 Iraqi troops arrayed against them had been killed, bringing the overall death toll to almost 5,000 men. In addition, Amaq claimed that 91 suicide bombing missions were conducted by the militant group up between 17 November and 17 December.
Highlighting the grave danger and brutal lethality of the Mosul operation, it was in December that Politico’s Mark Perry cited several senior US officials and military commanders as giving concerning accounts of how they viewed the battle as progressing.
According to a senior CENTCOM official, Politico reported that Daesh had conducted over 600 suicide bombings, despite Daesh’s own figures pointing to 215 such attacks up until mid-December. As Daesh normally boasts about these deadly attacks, it is unlikely they would downplay their own figures.
Politico also quoted a senior Pentagon official, who has access to daily battle reports on the Mosul offensive, as saying that Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) had suffered 50 per cent force attrition in some battalions.
“If that rate is constant, the [CTS] division could become combat ineffective in a little over a month, and perhaps even sooner,” the Pentagon official said in December.
Though the CTS have not been ruled out of the fighting due to additional support from the US-led coalition as well as Iraqi federal police forces, staffed by Shia militants from the Iran-backed Badr Organisation, the fighting has been far from easy.
In the third month of fighting, Daesh claimed to have killed 1,520 Iraqi soldiers, showing that their level of lethality had dropped, but casualty figures for Baghdad were also potentially intolerably high.
By this point, Daesh figures for Iraqi losses had reached 6,500 men, and with this month’s tally of 530, the overall total has now exceeded 7,000 fatalities. The Iraqi government has not provided any alternative figures to dispute Daesh claims, and it means that the original force of 100,000 men has suffered seven per cent fatalities, with likely thousands more in wounded.
Potentially, a division or more of Iraqi soldiers may have been killed or wounded since 17 October.
Combat ability dropping?
There are a number of reasons why Daesh extremists have managed to kill less US and Iran-backed soldiers and Shia jihadists over the past month than in previous months.
In the first month, there was very much an active campaign run by the Iraqi authorities, with Daesh also engaged in a highly kinetic and ferocious defence of its last major urban stronghold in Iraq. As such, casualty figures were bound to be high.
As the battle wore on, however, and attrition set in, there were numerous stalls to the Iraqi advance inside eastern Mosul itself. Daesh militants regularly ambushed ISF units as they advanced, and footage from several networks, including the BBC and CNN’s Arwa Damon, showed how devastating Daesh booby traps could be.
As the last of the major skirmishes and clashes ended earlier this month of the eastern bank, Iraqi forces paused to attempt to consolidate their positions. As such, there were only minor engagements between the two belligerents until late last week when the ISF resumed combat operations to attempt to take the western half of the city.
The significant reduction in ISF deaths could also be to Daesh suffering heavy casualties itself. Before the operation began, US intelligence estimates places Daesh’s numbers at around 5,000-6,000 men. They now estimate only 2,000 fighters in western Mosul and the surrounding areas, a reduction of up to two-thirds of their manpower.
However, once Iraqi forces enter western Mosul, more heavily built up with narrow alleyways and streets that will force the ISF to engage in infantry battles, their casualties may rise more significantly.