Two years ago, just after the fall of Mosul, the US-led coalition launched the first airstrikes on ISIS, ushering in a deeper phase of intervention that dramatically changed the fight against the militant group in Iraq. Since then, more than 9,400 airstrikes have allowed Iraqi forces to claw back cities, towns, supply lines, and infrastructure. But the fight—which continues to be largely waged from the air—has also leveled entire neighborhoods, displaced millions, and redrawn the Iraqi map, reports AP. The US-led coalition estimates that since the airstrikes began on Aug 8, 2014, ISIS has lost more than 40% of the territory it once held in Iraq. But while coalition airstrikes paved the way for Kurdish and Iraqi ground forces to retake territory, in many cases the result is a ruined prize.
As the push to retake Mosul ramps up, the scars from two years of costly victories remain vivid. For example, Sinjar, the small mostly Yazidi town north of Mosul, was retaken by Kurdish forces nine months ago, but it still lies in ruins. While Sinjar is technically "liberated," the vast majority of its residents still live in tented camps for the displaced scattered throughout Iraq's north. Across Iraq, an estimated 3.2 million Iraqis remain displaced from their homes. Kindi Hameed Majid, 30, fled Mosul with his wife in the summer of 2014. More than two years later, they remain in Irbil, and Majid says he doubts they will ever return. Even if Mosul is retaken by Iraqi forces, he worries the city will never be secure enough to be inhabitable again. "We see the future as dark and unknown." (Read more Iraq stories.)