Today, the same day that ISIS surrendered Al-Bab to the Turkish army, ISIS abandoned Mosul airport to the Iraqi army.
This is the first important point recaptured by the Iraqi army since the offensive to liberate western Mosul from ISIS was launched on Sunday.
The fall of Mosul airport is being widely reported in the international news media as a further sign that ISIS is on the retreat. Up to a point this is true. However excessive euphoria is uncalled for. Reports make it clear that ISIS made no attempt to defend the airport, choosing to pull back its fighters who were based there to the more defensible positions ISIS has created in the heavily built up suburbs of western suburbs Mosul. It will be the fight to capture these suburbs that will be the great test of this battle, which properly speaking has not yet begun.
ISIS’s retreat from Mosul airport is in keeping with ISIS’s usual practice, which is not to try to defend what is undefendable. In the battle for eastern Mosul which has raged since October and which is still not quite finished, ISIS has however shown that it intends to defend its positions in Mosul fanatically. There is no reason to think that this will change and many weeks and possibly months of gruelling fighting probably lie ahead.
The capture of Mosul airport does nonetheless provide the Iraqi military with a vital air base close to Mosul, which it can use to resupply its troops quickly by air, and from which Iraqi aircraft and helicopters can operate to provide the Iraqi army attacking ISIS with air support. Though its capture does not mean that the battle of Mosul is anywhere close to ending, it does make the Iraqi army’s operations against ISIS in the city significantly easier.