Our trucks on their way to western Mosul earlier today

This morning, we set out for western Mosul, our trucks packed with food for 12,000 people, unsure how the day would go. We planned, prepared, and coordinated with Iraqi government and military officials. We’ve been on many of these high-risk, frontline distributions before, and one thing we’ve learned: 

In a war zone, things change fast. 

We knew this would be even riskier than other frontline distributions we’ve done. We were told it could be “as bad or worse than Bawiza,” a reference to a town north of Mosul where ISIS targeted our team with mortar fire last December.  

As we set out today, ISIS launched a massive counterattack in western Mosul—a bid to recapture territory they’ve lost to Iraqi forces over the last few days. Waves of suicide car bombs launched into civilian-populated areas, causing heavy casualties and forcing thousands to flee. 

The militant group also used an even deadlier form of attack: suicide motorcycles. They’re faster, they’re perversely suited to the narrow streets in western Mosul, and they’re much harder to stop. 

And it worked. For the first time in a long time, ISIS actually gained territory today. 

On our way in, we sat down with government officials and military leaders, including Lt. Gen. Adbul Wahab al-Saadi, the commander of the Mosul Offensive. The danger was too extreme, he said. He could not allow us into the neighborhood we had planned to serve. But there are families in nearby in desperate need. Could we help them, he asked? 

We said yes.  

So tomorrow we’re going back. 

Because the need is still here. According to one local official we spoke with, the main reason people are fleeing is a lack of food. But throughout the battle for Mosul, many families have been unable—or unwilling—to flee. Many Mosul residents fear what they’ll find far from home—or what will be left when (and if) they’re finally allowed to return home if they leave. For many, the confinement of a refugee camp equals the loss of autonomy, the loss of identity—and to them, that’s too high a price to pay. 

Many would rather hold onto home, even as the bombs and bullets fly. But they can’t hold on without food. 

Today was frustrating. ISIS blocked us from western Mosul with waves of suicide bombers. But tomorrow… we’re going back. 

Stay tuned for updates on tomorrow’s effort to reach starved-out families inside western Mosul.

Crossing the Tigris River on the way to western Mosul earlier today

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Matt Willingham contributed to this post.

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