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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Aid Group: Thousands Have Fled Mosul

By Jamie Dettmer, Carla Babb October 19, 2016

The international charity Save the Children says thousands of people have fled the Mosul area in order to escape the unfolding offensive by Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the city from Islamic State militants.

The aid group said about 5,000 people have arrived in the past 10 days at a refugee camp over the border in Syria, which risks being overwhelmed as more people flee.

"These families arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs and find almost nothing to help them," said Tarik Kadir, who heads the charity's Mosul response. Alarm is rising about the prospects for civilians caught in the middle of the likely weeks-long, if not months, battle to retake the Islamic State's last major urban stronghold in Iraq.

On Tuesday, Iraqi and Kurdish leaders told Filippo Grandi, the U.N.'s refugee commissioner, that they would do their best to protect civilians. "The protection of the civilians in Mosul cannot be just the responsibility of a few humanitarian organizations," Grandi told reporters in the Kurdistan capital of Irbil.

He added: "We hope that not many people will leave Mosul but we have to plan for large numbers. He said the United Nations and the government have sufficient materials, especially shelter materials like tents for example, for hundreds of thousands of people, maybe up to 400,000." At least a million civilians are estimated to be in Mosul.

In the city, which IS fighters have controlled for two years, the militants have fanned out and residents contacted by phone say the center is eerily quiet with most people hunkered down waiting for the full storm to hit. They hope the food and supplies they stored up will last the battle. U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi warplanes have been avoiding launching airstrikes in residential areas in a bid to reduce civilian casualties.

Residents say they are fearful to venture out and that IS fighters have become more brutal and unpredictable in their behavior.

"There have been two public executions in my neighborhood since Sunday," said Salim, a shopkeeper and father-of-two. The militants don't mass in large numbers and move around in small groups, mainly on motorbikes.

IS preparing to defend city center

The jihadists are also continuing with preparations to defend the city center, blocking roads with mounds of dirt and erecting makeshift barriers. IS fighters bombed two buildings inside Mosul, Kurdish officials reported.

Tuesday, the terror group's propagandists posted online two videos – one seeking to depict a city unaffected by war with locals shopping in bustling streets using old footage and another showing armed jihadists patrolling streets and a masked militant threatening America.

"As for you, America, we promise you ... America will be defeated in Iraq and will leave, God willing, again, humiliated, wretched, dragging its tail in defeat," in the video posted late Tuesday by the IS-linked Amaq news agency.

On the battlefield, though, the taunts would seem to be misplaced.

The terror group has lost more than two dozen villages on the outskirts of Mosul, the Islamic State's last major urban stronghold in Iraq, since Iraqi security forces in the south and Kurdish peshmerga fighters in the east launched Monday their long-awaited offensive.

The going has been quicker than Iraqi and U.S. commanders claim they expected, and morale on the ground remains high. Even so, officials are tamping down expectations of a speedy defeat of the terror group as Iraqi and Kurdish forces contend with roadside bombs, snipers, suicide bombers and hit-and-run attacks by the extremists.

US role

More than 500 American troops are accompanying Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the Mosul operation. U.S. officials have stressed that embedded American forces will remain with Iraqi and Peshmerga counterparts who are involved in coordinating and decision making, rather than at the front lines of combat. But U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said U.S. troops are still in harm's way.

Estimates of IS fighters in Mosul range from about 3,000 to 5,000 fighters, but U.S. officials say Mosul is home to zealous and battle-hardened IS fighters.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Tuesday the Americans are assisting about 10,000 Kurds, 18,000 Iraqi Security Forces and another couple thousand Iraqi police as they face an Islamic State force that has been hunkered down in the the second-largest Iraqi city for more than two years.

Much of the west is still controlled by Islamic State, prompting U.S. officials to suggest the IS leadership may look to flee west to Deir Ezzor and Raqqa in Syria should Mosul start to fall.

These officials say they have seen some IS family members flee west, but they have not seen foreign fighters coming in or out of the city recently.

The fighting has remained on the outskirts of Mosul. The Kurdish peshmerga have been slowing or pausing their advance to allow ISF units to leap-frog ahead of them. Iraqi officials say only ISF forces will enter the mainly Sunni Muslim city. But some Shi'ite militiamen insist they, too, will enter the city center.

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