(Reuters) ISIL is building a moat around Mosul in northern Iraq, in preparation for a long, hard battle against U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces for the biggest city that is under ISIL’s control.
The city of 2 million fell to the militants in 2014 in a lightning advance, and the offensive to recapture it will be the biggest battle ISIL has ever fought.
Residents say the fighters have been sealing off entire districts and building a network of tunnels across the city to obstruct government troops.
The group has been working hard this month to dig a two-metre by two-metre trench along the city’s perimeter and position oil tanks nearby to create a river of fire that would impede advancing troops and hinder aerial surveillance, according to senior Iraq military officers, Mosul residents, and local officials based outside the city.
The battle to retake Mosul from ISIL, which has been forced off significant portions of the territory it seized in Iraq and neighbouring Syria in 2014, could begin as soon as next month.
The jihadists have put up fierce resistance against attacks on some parts of their caliphate over the past two years but melted away in other areas, prompting debate about how they will react to a push on Mosul.
Recent activities suggest ISIL will dig in, presaging a long and bloody fight that could displace large numbers of civilians.
“Oil trenches, tunnels and suicide attacks will not save ISIL from defeat but they will make the battle more challenging,” said Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for the counter-terrorism forces which are expected to spearhead the offensive. “We are confident ISIL will fight to their last fighter to keep holding Mosul.”