As soon as Mosul offensive was announced last month we also learned the battle plan isn’t for the city to be encircled fully. Instead a narrow corridor leading westwards is to be left in ISIS hands so as to encourage its fighters to flee to neighboring city of Tal Afar and onward to Syria.
For example Major Salam Jassim, a commander with the US-trained Iraqi special forces explained to Reuters:
The western side of the city will be left largely open, which may make for a less protracted fight inside than if it was besieged. “We’ll try to give them an escape to run to Syria,” Jassim said of the militants.
And the overall Iraqi commander in charge of the operation, General Najim Abdullah al-Jubouri told The Times:
The Iraqi general commanding the operation to liberate Mosul plans to leave open a corridor for Islamic State fighters to flee the city rather than trap them in an urban battle that would endanger civilians.
“I believe in a corridor,” he told The Times. “If we surround them [Islamic State] from every side they will be pushed to fight to the last. The population is the big challenge for us — so we must fight Isis outside Mosul, not inside.”
I am not one of those who concluded from this that the ISIS escape corridor idea was thought up specifically and primarily to force thousands of ISIS fighters into Syria. There are in fact valid military and humanitarian reasons why you would prefer not to fight your enemy in a built up area. After all the Syrian and Russian militaries are likewise continuously inviting the militants holed up in Eastern Aleppo to take advantage of open corridors to evacuate the city.
— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) October 24, 2016
That said there is little doubt that over at the CIA, the State Department and the Pentagon they will be very happy if the exodus of ISIS cadres westwards happens and ends up making the life of the Syrian military a lot harder — just like Syrians fear and suspect that it will.
There is a catch, however. The militias advancing on the western flank of the offensive do not seem to care that the plan calls for ISIS to be left with a westward escape route. They have already cut one of the two roads ISIS could have used to flee and vow they will take the other as well:
The main assault on Mosul by the Iraqi army forces will come from the south rather than the east, and here army units are still some 20 miles from the city.
But the encirclement by the different elements in the shaky alliance looking to take part in the siege is getting tighter.
The Shia paramilitary forces known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Units, on Thursday cut one of the main Isis supply routes linking Mosul to Syria.
Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Shia Badr organisation, said that the next step would be to cut the route between Mosul and the small city of Tal Afar, whose Sunni Turkman population is notorious for its past support for Al-Qaeda in Iraq and later for Isis, several of whose leading commanders and officials come from there.
Despite fears Iraq’s Mosul operation (which is backed by Russia and Iran, as well as by US) could very well serve to greatly improve the position of pro-government forces in Syria.
First of all the loss of the city of over one million will be a great blow to the prestige and morale of ISIS. Secondly it may free up Iraqi militias to move into eastern Syria and lift the siege of heroic city of Deir ez-Zor.