In June, Islamic State’s fighters in Mosul had been pushed back to a warren of small streets in Mosul. On June 21, with a few square kilometers of territory still under their command, they blew up the iconic al-Nuri mosque from where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had proclaimed the “caliphate” three summers before, in 2014. Overhead there were layers of US-led coalition aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters and other craft, all looking for ISIS fighters and helping the Iraqi Army progress street by street.
“The challenge we faced is we were operating in a city of 1.8 million the size of Philadelphia and the enemy was embedded in the civilian population, and we did everything we could do to protect civilians,” recalls US Air Force Brig.-Gen. Andrew A. Croft.
Croft is deputy commander for the Air, Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command of Operation Inherent Resolve – the US military’s intervention against ISIS. In short, “I am the guy who helped run and coordinate the air campaign in Mosul as it came down to the final days,” he says in a phone interview from Iraq. The general, who holds an MBA from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, was appointed to his current position in April 2017 and will serve through next May.
He describes the campaign for Mosul, which lasted from October 2016 to July 2017, as the first time in history such a precision-guided war was waged on this scale. “We did a lot of coordination with Iraqi security forces on the ground, figuring out where Daesh [ISIS] is, who is Daesh and being able to attack them… they did everything they could do to frustrate our efforts using civilian structures so that was the challenge. What enabled us was the precision weapons are more precise than ever in history.”
The coalition, which includes around 68 countries, some two dozen of which are involved on the ground or in the air, had at its disposal weapons ranging from 10 lbs (4.5 kg.) to 2,000 lbs [some 900 kg.], he says….