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U.S. And Iraqi Forces Set To Deploy New Tactics In Mosul


Six months into the battle to force ISIS out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Iraqi and U.S. forces are changing their battle plan. They are slowing things down, at least for now. That's because the number of people killed in that battle has been higher than expected, and ISIS is putting up serious resistance. An Iraqi commander confirmed the change in strategy to NPR's Jane Arraf, and she joins us now from northern Iraq. Hello.


MCEVERS: Hi. So what did this commander tell you?

ARRAF: Well, I sat down with Major General Najm Abdullah al-Jubouri. He's the director of the Nineveh Operations Command that's in charge of carrying out that battle for Mosul. And he says the changes will likely involve slowing that offensive that's just now pushing into those packed narrow streets of the old district in west Mosul.

So Iraqi forces have Mosul entirely surrounded, but they've been running into strong ISIS defense lines. They didn't worry about that so much before because they could use U.S. airpower in those wider spaces in east Mosul. But here, because of the risk of civilian casualties, this changed battle plan will involve fewer U.S. airstrikes. Here's a bit of what he said.

NAJM ABDULLAH AL-JUBOURI: Before we depend on the airstrike and we don't worry about that we can destroy them. Because the shortage of airstrikes now, we need to make some maneuver to change our plans.

ARRAF: So Jubouri tells us he believes there are less than 800 ISIS fighters left in the city. And he says less than half of those are hardcore fighters. But they're managing to keep the civilians from getting out. And there are some 300,000 civilians in areas still under ISIS control.

MCEVERS: A U.S. airstrike last month is believed to have killed more than a hundred civilians. The U.S. acknowledges launching the strike but is investigating whether ISIS explosives in the area might have actually caused the deaths. Does that incident factor into this new strategy?

ARRAF: It certainly seems to. General Jubouri said they had planned the shift before that airstrike, but he's very clear that concern over the heavy civilian and military casualties is now driving a lot of the battle planning. Here he is again.

AL-JUBOURI: ISIS used the people like a human shield. Because that, our mission become very difficult.

ARRAF: So he says commanders agreed not to depend so much on the airstrikes, to try to avoid some of those casualties. And he primarily means civilians because several thousand have been killed or wounded so far in the battle but also military casualties. And those have also been very high. Up to 800 Iraqi troops, according to U.S. and Iraqi commanders, have been killed and 4,000 wounded since that battle began.

MCEVERS: So does this mean that civilians who are still there in Mosul are in for a longer fight than they thought?

ARRAF: Well, General Jubouri says he believes this change in tactics could actually lead to a quicker resolution of the battle eventually. But he says by now it's too late to open a civilian corridor to let civilians escape. And what the battle does is essentially leave hundreds of thousands of people surrounded by the fighting. And they're already running low on food and water, so there's a lot of concern about that.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Jane Arraf in northern Iraq. Thanks so much.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.