An Iraqi soldier, after spotting a bulldozer across the Tigris River, alerted his elite unit, which fired a missile with a boom so loud it blew a metal door behind the soldiers off its hinges.
“The terrorist driving that bulldozer is burning. He is cooked,” said Mostafa Majeed, the soldier manning the scope. In three months of Iraq’s biggest military operation since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, government forces have seized most of east Mosul.
But they have yet to cross the Tigris, leaving the western half of the city still firmly in the hands of the jihadists, who declared their caliphate here two and a half years ago.
Now, the troops are firing across the river to harass the militants and disrupt their fortifications, in preparation for the next phase of the campaign: the fight for the other side.
“The idea is to keep making life tough for them from our position, to kill them and prevent them from escaping as other forces surround them from other directions,” Major Mohamed Ali told Reuters.
The tactical advance of Iraqi forces is a sharp contrast to 2014, when the army collapsed and fled in the face of a force of only an estimated 800 ISIS militants that swept into Mosul and swiftly seized a third of Iraq.
The soldiers appear disciplined as they position themselves on rooftops behind green sandbags, painstakingly watching the militants’ every move through binoculars and scopes, hoping to get a clear shot with sniper rifles.