In addition to creating defensive positions along the southern edge of Mosul, the Islamic State has prepared for the impending Iraqi offensive against the city by almost completely destroying its airport. Satellite imagery from the site reveals the extent of the militants' scorched-earth campaign: The airport has been nearly erased from existence.
The damage that has been done to the facility's runways is clear. Wide trenches have been carved in them along their entire length in an attempt to render them unusable as a logistical asset or a base for airstrikes against Islamic State positions. The destruction extends to adjacent taxiways and aprons, leaving no paved portion of the airport's infrastructure available for use by aircraft. A similar pattern of damage was seen at Qayyarah air base about 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of Mosul. However, the trenches dug there were not as wide and only partially covered the main runway, which was restored to service in a matter of months after Iraqi forces captured the base in July. By comparison, the Mosul airport's destruction could be much more difficult to repair.
Mirroring the demolition at Qayyarah, the Islamic State also leveled practically every structure at Mosul's airport. In part, this tactic appears to be aimed at clearing lines of sight for defensive positions to the north of the airport. At the same time, however, it prevents Iraqi forces or their allies from using the facilities once the airport is captured. In addition to restoring the runway itself, the Iraqis will need to rebuild hangars, warehouses and other basing infrastructure from scratch to gain any benefit from the site.
Compared with the airport and the destroyed military base to its west, the city's sugar factory stands in notable contrast. While the factory has no bearing on the use of airport assets, it is relatively intact, a testimony to its utility to the Islamic State. After it captured Mosul, the militant group continued to operate the sugar factory. In November 2015, the group even executed the plant's manager after she refused to run it. Because the factory gave the Islamic State some advantage, it was allowed to continue standing. The airport, meanwhile, could only offer logistical perks to the Islamic State's opponents, so it was leveled. Eventually, coalition airstrikes targeted the sugar factory, the damage from which can be seen in the imagery. But that level of destruction pales in comparison to the devastation the Islamic State left behind at the airport.
The Mosul airport is now essentially worthless as an asset for attacking forces. Airports or runways are typically a primary objective for assaults on cities, since control over them can deny or enable logistical capabilities that can have a considerable impact on the battle. In the case of Mosul, however, a directed effort at taking control of what remains of the airport is unlikely, since there is little left to be gained from it.