One million civilians caught in crossfire as offensive begins to

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A 30,000-strong Iraqi and Kurdish force has launched its offensive against an estimated 3,000 to 4,500 ISIS militants in Mosul, where approximately 1 million civilians are caught in the middle, eager to be freed from the brutal rule of the self-proclaimed Caliphate.Estimates of the number of ISIS militants in Mosul have steadily dropped over the months. In early March, Col. Christopher Garver, spokesperson for the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, estimated that there were less than 10,000 militants in the city. More recently, another coalition spokesperson Col. John Dorrian said there are between 3,000 and 4,500 ISIS fighters in Mosul, both foreign and local. Some have been killed – coalition airstrikes have targeted ISIS leadership in Mosul; 13 were killed in September alone, Dorrian announced at the end of the month. Many ISIS leaders have fled the city with their families in anticipation of the military offensive, Iraq’s then minister of defence, Khalid al-Obeidi, said in July, noting that most were going to Syria. Others have deserted the militant group and fled, with Turkey the most popular destination. “This very morning, three ISIS fighters have fled to Turkey,” the Mosul Eye, a blogger in Mosul and one of the few sources of information from the city, told Rudaw English earlier this month. They were local recruits, he added. Those militants remaining in the city are largely young, inexperienced Mosul teenagers. The Mosul Eye estimated that 90 percent of the militants who contributed to building the Caliphate are now gone – including the many Saudi fighters that once filled Mosul’s streets. The few that remain have again filled the streets, putting on a show of force for the civilian population. “They want to show themselves that they are ready and strong. But this is not true, many of the fighters are teenagers,” locally recruited, the Mosul Eye said. The large proportion of local fighters may bode well for hopes of a quick offensive if the liberation of Qayyara is any indication. When Iraqi forces retook the city in August, local ISIS militants deserted and only the foreigners stayed, fighting to their deaths, residents of the city told Rudaw.

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