BAGHDAD — The Iraqi army wrested control of a village held by the Islamic State south of Mosul on Tuesday, nearly three months after launching an offensive to retake it.
The Iraqi military said forces from the 71st Brigade of the army’s 15th Division, which has closely trained with the U.S.-led coalition in the country, led the operation to secure Nasr, 35 miles south of Mosul, after a renewed push. However, the head of the brigade, Brig. Gen. Badr Ahmed al-Luhaibi, was killed.
The delay in recapturing the village had proved to be an embarrassment for the Iraqi army and the coalition, with the operation having been touted as the first real test of freshly trained Iraqi units. The United States spent more than $1.6 billion training and equipping the Iraqi army last year, an effort largely centered on troops designated for the operation to recapture Mosul, the largest Iraqi city under the control of the Islamic State.
Iraqi forces are still a long way from being able to begin an offensive targeting the northern city itself, which President Obama had said he envisaged by the end of the year. In addition to military preparation, such an operation requires political coordination between Baghdad and the semiautonomous Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, and those relations are strained.
A drawn-out and bloody battle for Fallujah, the city west of Baghdad that was the first in the country to fall to the Islamic State, also could further delay preparations, with units needed for Mosul tied up in fighting there.
Still, some long-awaited reinforcements finally arrived south of Mosul over the weekend, including tanks.
Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jabouri, commander of the Mosul operation, had complained that the lack of armored support was hampering progress.
“In only three hours, we liberated the village and crushed the resistance,” said Lt. Col. Helan Mahmood, the head of an army commando unit that fought in Nasr. He said the recently arrived armored units had played a “major role.” Iraqi army units also retook the nearby village of Hajj Ali on Monday evening, he added.
Iraqi forces briefly entered Nasr in late March, declaring it under their control before withdrawing again. The head of the brigade was dismissed after the failed operation and replaced with Luhaibi.