Mosul: After weeks of airstrikes and artillery fire, Mosul’s al-Salam hospital is little more than a burnt-out shell. Retaken from the Islamic State group by Iraqi forces this month, the building’s top floors were almost completely destroyed.
The gardens around the complex are strewn with medical records and supplies. Bright blue hospital bedsheets hang from nearby trees.
The hospital in eastern Mosul was the scene of one of the most significant setbacks for Iraqi troops in the nearly 3-month operation to retake Iraq’s second-largest city. On December 6, after advancing too quickly, Iraqi forces found themselves surrounded by IS fighters in the hospital complex.
Pummeled by wave upon wave of militant counterattacks, dozens were killed and wounded, according to Iraqi military and hospital officials, eventually forcing a withdrawal.
Some Iraqi army officers blamed the setback on insufficient air support by the US-led coalition. Others faulted poor leadership and a lack of coordination among the many disparate Iraqi forces participating in the Mosul offensive, including tribal and militia fighters who maintain their own command structures.
Following the December withdrawal, Iraq’s elite rapid-response unit joined the Iraqi army on Mosul’s southeast front and the US-led coalition increased its air campaign, despite an initial reluctance to use airstrikes against IS in the vicinity of the hospital.
Over the past month, coalition planes dropped 25 bombs on the hospital complex, according to a Pentagon statement provided to The Associated Press. After weeks of static front lines, the renewed air and ground assault brought Iraqi forces to the edge of the Tigris River. Since the Mosul operation was launched in October, Iraqi forces have slowly clawed backabout a third of the city.
“We have more experience in urban areas,” said Brig. Gen. Mehdi Abbas Abdullah, a commander of the rapid-response unit, explaining why his forces were able to eventually retake the hospital. Before joining the Mosul fight, he led men in Fallujah and Khaldiya in Iraq’s Anbar province.
But one of his men said air power rather than ground forces played the key role.
“Honestly, the battle was 75 percent fought from the air,” said Sgt. Maj. Hassan Ali Jalil, acknowledging the military’s continued reliance on coalition airstrikes despite months of coalition training.