Islamic State fighters are likely to put up a stiff defense of Mosul but eventually lose their grip and morph into an insurgency, a U.S. Army general said Wednesday.
Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of U.S. and coalition land forces in Iraq, said this transition from conventional combat to counter-insurgency is deemed so predictable that the U.S. training regimen for Iraqi security forces is being adjusted to prepare them for insurgent threats.
Volesky, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon via video link from his headquarters in Baghdad, also disclosed that U.S. Army Apache helicopters have entered the battle for Mosul. He declined to provide specifics, citing the need to preserve operational security, but said they have been striking Islamic State targets at night. The mere presence of the Apaches on the battlefield has been a confidence booster for Iraqi soldiers, he said.
The Apaches, he said, can "see a long range at night" and strike targets from a great distance. "That's what they're doing," he said.
Volesky said some Islamic State forces already are giving up their positions in the outskirts of Mosul and pulling back into the city. He said he expects this trend to continue. They are then likely to attempt to block the entry of Iraqi forces into the city, using a "full-fledged conventional defense."
At some point, he predicted, the Iraqi forces will prevail, and at that point, "I expect they (Islamic State fighters) are going to go into insurgency mode."
"That's my assessment," he added. "That's what we're preparing the Iraqis for."
Earlier this month, a Canadian general who runs a portion of the coalition training of Iraqi security forces told reporters that retaking Mosul from the Islamic State would open a new, more dangerous phase of the counter-IS fight. Brig. Gen. Dave Anderson said the period between the fall of Mosul and the ultimate defeat of IS "is probably when it's most dangerous."
"Literally, what we've been talking about is how do we position police forces and minister of interior forces in order to be able to fight the enemy the day after Mosul and its new metastasized form," Anderson said Oct. 5.
Also on Wednesday, a senior Iraqi general called on Iraqis fighting for the Islamic State group in Mosul to surrender as a wide-scale operation to retake the militant-held city entered its third day.
Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati told reporters at a military base that up to 6,000 IS fighters are inside the city. He did not say how many of them are foreigners.
IS captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, in a lightning advance in the summer of 2014. The extremist group has suffered a string of defeats over the past year, and Mosul is its last major urban bastion in Iraq.
The militants have put up fierce resistance in villages surrounding the city, where most of the fighting has been concentrated. IS has sent trucks loaded with explosives careening toward the front lines and fired mortars to slow the Iraqi forces' advance.
An Iraqi officer from the 9th Division told The Associated Press that his troops were now around one kilometer (half a mile) away from Hamdaniyah, a historically Christian town also known as Bakhdida, to the east of Mosul.
Over the past day, IS sent 12 car bombs, all of which were blown up before reaching their targets, he said, adding that Iraqi troops suffered a small number of casualties from the mortar rounds. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, did not provide specific figures.
To the north, airstrikes pounded Bashiqa as Kurdish forces fired mortar rounds from an area overlooking the IS-held town.
Save the Children said 5,000 people have fled to a refugee camp in northeastern Syria from the Mosul area in the last 10 days, with another thousand waiting to enter at the border.
The group said the overwhelmed camp is "littered with waste and feces, with a looming risk of outbreaks of disease." It said there are just 16 latrines shared by more than 9,000 people, many of whom only have access to dirty, untreated water.
"Conditions there are among the worst we've seen, and we expect thousands more people to be on their way soon," said Tarik Kadir, head of the group's Mosul response.
The operation to retake Mosul is the largest launched by the Iraqi army since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Some 25,000 troops, including Sunni tribal fighters, Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga and state-sanctioned Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units are approaching the city from different directions.