WASHINGTON – United States troops have been operating inside the Iraqi city of Mosul alongside the Iraqi security forces as advisers, the U.S.-led coalition confirmed Wednesday.
“They have been in the city at different times,” U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a spokesperson for the anti-ISIS coalition, told reporters at the Pentagon via teleconference from Baghdad.
In November, the Pentagon said it was still weighing whether U.S. troops would enter the ISIS stronghold with Iraqi partners.
These U.S. and coalition advisors are operating “behind the forward line of troops,” as Iraqi forces lead the combat fight, Dorrian said.
There are now about 450 coalition advisers in Iraq, according to Dorrian, doubling the number that had been involved in the Mosul operation up until a few weeks ago when the second phase of the operation launched.
The additional forces were moved from other positions in Iraq, he said.
Dorrian described the fight for Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, as “slow going,” saying that it’s “going to take some time.”
“The enemy has had more than two years to prepare for the battle that is now ongoing. So, they have a tremendous amount of weaponry and resources. And, they’ve had a tremendous amount of time to dig elaborate defenses and establish booby traps to complicate the Iraqi security force’s advance. At the same time, they have also shown no reluctance whatsoever to attack civilians or use civilians as shields,” Dorrian said.
He said that the Iraqi forces are having to painstakingly clear each building, as they push into the city of more than 200,000 buildings.
The Iraqi government and U.S.-led coalition have retaken about a quarter of Mosul since the operation launched in late October, and are currently working three axis of attack – straining the militant group’s resources.
ISIS cannot reinforce or resupply their positions in Mosul, Dorrian said.
There are 4,935 U.S. troops in Iraq, including trainers and other support forces, according to the Pentagon.
The number of civilians fleeing the city of roughly 1.5 million people has increased by about 44 percent since military operations intensified with the second phase of the operation, to 2,300 daily from 1,600 people, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday.
The agency estimates that nearly 130,000 people are now displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas due to the fighting.
At the offset of the battle, the Iraqi government and coalition encouraged civilians to “remain in their homes in many instances because they might actually be safer there.”
On Thursday, the U.N. cautioned that people inside Mosul are facing a dire humanitarian situation. Across the city, food stocks are dwindling while the price of staple foodstuff is rising rapidly and water boreholes in the east of Mosul are drying up or turning brackish from over-use.