Why America Is Destroying Iraqi Cities to Save Them by John Spencer - The National Interest
Mosul is destroyed. Many of the estimated 875,000 residents displaced by the fighting can’t return home because their houses are among the piles of rubble left behind. Mosul joins cities like Stalingrad, Hue, Grozny, and more recently, Aleppo and Raqqa—all destroyed by violent combat. The so-called victory in Mosul should give us cause to question the limited options available to militaries forced to fight in cities.
Estimates of the cost of rebuilding Mosul range into the billions. The deaths of thousands of civilians and the loss of heritage sites, like the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, can never be recouped. Did the removal of ISIS require destroying Iraq’s second largest city? Unfortunately, yes.
To be clear, Mosul was not a battle fought by the U.S. military. But the Iraqi forces who undertook this urban fight did so with U.S. advice, training and tools—including advanced surveillance technology and firepower—and their performance offers illustrative lessons about the limits of the methods and capabilities available for urban combat.
ISIS chose Mosul as a symbol of its fictitious state as well as an ideal battleground. That allowed the group to simply avoid many of the comparative advantages enjoyed by traditional military forces. Three years ago, ISIS fighters moved into the city, overwhelmed Iraqi forces, and began preparing to hold and defend the new capital of their self-proclaimed caliphate. They kept civilians in the city to use as human shields. They dug tunnels and made boreholes in walls to avoid being seen and targeted by aerial surveillance assets and bombers. They blocked streets by piling cars, concrete and other material between the densely packed buildings. Like a cancer in a human body, ISIS embedded into its host and started to spread its poison…