MOSUL, Iraq – Significant Islamic State group (I.S.) counterattacks in southeastern Mosul inflicted heavy losses on Iraqi forces overnight after a new push deeper into the city this week, according to an Iraqi Army officer.
Despite the counterattacks, the fresh Iraqi push appears to have relieved pressure on Iraq’s special forces who have been largely leading the fight inside the city on the eastern front. Wednesday afternoon, the special forces announced new gains. The troops retook another neighborhood bringing them closer to the Tigris River that divides Mosul’s east from west, according to the commander of a joint operations center that oversees the Mosul campaign.
Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarellah, said in a statement that troops had “fully liberated” the al-Elam neighborhood and raised the Iraqi flag over its buildings. Yarellah added that I.S. militants “suffered losses” without elaborating.
Also Wednesday, the Islamic State group’s Amaq news agency released a propaganda video showing captive British photojournalist John Cantlie in what appeared to be central Mosul. Cantlie is seen detailing the U.S.-led coalition’s destruction of four of Mosul’s five main bridges in a series of airstrikes last month that he describes as inflicting harm on the city’s sizeable civilian population.
I.S. has long used Cantlie for propaganda purposes, featuring him in videos from Mosul as well as the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Kobani, likely speaking under duress. As Mosul’s bridges were destroyed last month, this is the first confirmation that Cantlie is alive since he appeared in an I.S. video in July.
At a small field hospital just a few kilometers from Mosul’s eastern front line, medics said that by midday Wednesday they had already treated about a dozen Iraqi soldiers injured with gunshot and shrapnel wounds. As progress into militant-held Mosul has ground on slowly, a field hospital that was once no more than a few cots in an open lot, has become more established. Military hospital cots sat in a driveway of a nearby abandoned building flanked by IV stands and oxygen tanks.
The medics spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the media.
The Iraqi Army said Tuesday that they retook the al-Salam hospital and pushed the front line back more than two kilometers, but Iraqi forces have repeatedly quickly advanced into Mosul only to be pushed back by counterattacks launched at night.
“Daesh waited until night to attack the troops,” Iraqi Army Sgt. Maj. Hakim Saranbii told press. He added that the attacks “inflicted heavy losses,” without giving specific casualty figures or further details. Iraqi Defense Ministry officials in Baghdad did not immediately comment.
Convoys of dozens of armored Iraqi special forces and army Humvees could be seen moving into the southeastern neighborhood Wednesday morning.
“What we see here is the enemy reacting to a new axis of advance,” said coalition spokesman U.S. Army Col. John Dorrian, explaining that the new push is putting increased pressure on I.S.
The Iraqi government has not publicized the casualty figures for government troops and paramilitary forces fighting in Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq. Last week, the U.N. said in a report that nearly 2,000 members of the Iraqi forces were killed last month, but after coming under fire from the media arm of the Iraqi military, it announced it would discontinue publishing casualty figures for Iraq’s security forces.
Backed by the U.S.-led international coalition, Iraqi government troops and paramilitary forces launched the campaign in October to dislodge I.S. from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the last major I.S. urban bastion in the country. Progress on the ground in Mosul has been slowed by heavily armored I.S. car bombs, snipers and networks of tunnels that allow the fighters to move without being seen by U.S.-led coalition aircraft.
Elsewhere, a wave of bombing attacks hit commercial areas in and around the capital, Baghdad, on Wednesday, killing at least 17 civilians and wounding 57, police and health officials said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but they bore all the hallmarks of the Islamic State group, which has staged dozens of similar attacks in the past.