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Iraq’s elite special forces struggle to regroup after bloody fight for Mosul
Iraqi special operations forces advance during a field training exercise in Baghdad in May. (Sgt. Mitchell Ryan/U.S. Army)

When the Iraqi government launched an online recruitment drive for its elite counterterrorism forces in May, a startling 300,000 men applied. Of those, 3,000 passed a preliminary screening. Only about 1,000 are expected to be accepted into the rigorous joint American-Iraqi training academy, an American military trainer said.

The staggering response points to the popularity of the “Golden Division” following its high-profile role in wresting back territory from the Islamic State. But the rigorous selection process highlights the challenge of rebuilding a force that the United States says lost 40 percent of its human and military resources in the nine-month battle for the city of Mosul.

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Inside the battle for Mosul

The fight to reclaim the city of Mosul from the Islamic State is one of the biggest yet against the militant group.

More than a million civilians are thought to be trapped in the city, and the already difficult battle is complicated by the uneasy mix of forces that have formed a coalition to rid the city of extremists.