CAPITALS — This weekend as many as 2,500 residents of Mosul escaped from the western half of a city that has been under the yoke of ISIS, aka Daesh, for almost three years.
Aid agencies estimate that there are approximately 750 thousand civilians trapped in western Mosul, unable or too frightened to leave despite the very real prospect of a prolonged, intense battle over the city between Iraqi government forces and ISIS fighters.
The assault on western Mosul has, thus far, been largely as expected – a much better equipped and better trained Iraqi army than the one humiliated by ISIS in 2014, methodically pushing towards the edge of the city thanks to overwhelming fire power and the cover of coalition air strikes.
For all their brutality and intolerance, ISIS fighters are nothing if not ingenious and in recent days they have been deploying a battle tactic almost unprecedented in modern urban warfare – the use of commercially available drones to drop bombs and grenades against civilian and military targets.
Large military drones are, of course, used to devastating effect by armies all over the Middle East, often resulting in huge loss of life. But the frequency and accuracy of how the Daesh group is utilising small, relatively unsophisticated drones in Mosul has significantly slowed the advance of government forces.
The drones have also caused panic among the civilian population, including residents of eastern Mosul. That part of the city was recaptured from ISIS last month during the first part of a campaign to drive the Islamists from their last stronghold in Iraq.
At a hospital in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil I met 55-year-old Umm Mohammed. The mother of seven, from the eastern side of Mosul, was sitting up in her bed, attached to a drip and unable to rest because of the searing pain from her right leg.
It had been shattered in several places by a grenade or small bomb dropped from a drone.
“I’d just gone to the market for some shopping… The next thing I was lying on the ground and looking up. People started pointing up to the sky from where the bomb had come,” she told me. “Where’s the security when these machines are hovering over people and killing us?”