Since July, the Islamic State’s defenders in Mosul have been busily turning the group’s Iraqi capital into a fortress in preparation for the onslaught they knew would come. Now, newly published satellite images reveal just how elaborate those efforts have been.

The new photos show the results of a mammoth undertaking to dismantle the city’s airport, an effort apparently intended to prevent Iraqi and coalition forces from using the facility as a staging ground. The images show dozens of trenches dug into the concrete runways, rendering them useless for fixed-wing aircraft, along with rubble piles that were once hangars and terminal buildings.

“The airport has been nearly erased from existence,” said an analysis released Thursday by Stratfor Forecasting, a private intelligence and consulting firm that provided the satellite images. The analysis described the airport’s dismantling as a part of a “scorched earth” campaign intended slow the advance of the Iraqi and Kurdish forces now fighting their way through Mosul’s southern and western outskirts.

While seizing the airport normally would be considered a primary objective for the Iraqi army, Mosul’s airport is “now essentially worthless as an asset for attacking forces,” the Stratfor analysis stated.

mosul3The images are further evidence of the determination of a defending force that has also dug miles of tunnels and erected barricades and snipers’ nests in preparation for the attack. Iraqi and Kurdish officials say their troops are meeting increasingly fierce resistance — often consisting of suicide bombers followed by waves of regular fighters in coordinated assaults — as they move closer to Mosul’s center.

The Islamic State’s leaders in recent weeks have released recorded messages urging Mosul’s defenders to prepare to become martyrs, signaling that the fight will be difficult and bloody to the end, Thomas Joscelyn, senior editor of the Long War Journal, said Thursday at a forum on Mosul sponsored by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank.

“ ‘Remaining and expanding’ was their long-term model,” Joscelyn said, “and now it’s basically, ‘We’re going to fight to the death.’ ”

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