February 29, 2016 By Kevin Baron
ISIS is under air, ground, and cyber attack as Iraqi and coalition troops encircle the group’s final stronghold in Iraq, the Joint Chiefs chairman says.
WASHINGTON — The battle for Mosul ultimately will be the biggest U.S. operation in Iraq since the end of the last war. That was Monday’s message from Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who said multinational forces have begun to cut off the city’s supply and communications lines, and to encircle and isolate Islamic State fighters with cyber and air and ground attacks. Some coalition forces are already going after ISIS inside Mosul, and the final thrust to retake it should be expected sooner than the distant future, Dunford said.
Carter and Dunford spoke just a few days after President Barack Obama said he directed the military to continue to “accelerate” the war against ISIS “on all fronts.”
U.S. leaders say Mosul, along with the Syrian city of Raqqa, is the heart and headquarters of ISIS. Coalition assaults on these cities, and replacing ISIS with local, vetted leaders, will break the group’s grip on Iraqi territory and end its ability to inspire or direct terrorist attacks abroad.
Rather than sending brigades of U.S. forces to reinvade Mosul, the Obama administration has deployed special operators to target ISIS leaders and dispatched thousands of advisors, who have spent months preparing Iraqi, Kurd, and other local forces to do the job. The strategy has drawn blistering criticism from seasoned diplomats, former generals, and Republican leaders and presidential candidates, who have argued that greater U.S. military intervention could have broken ISIS sooner and saved innocents.
Still, the push into Mosul will require more American forces than were involved in the recent retaking of the southern Iraqi city of Ramadi, and will be shaped by lessons from that earlier campaign. Carter said he expected Americans to provide more logistics and “bridging” forces; Dunford said U.S. and Iraqi troops are preparing logistics and resupply points for Iraqi fighters as they make their way into the city.
“The operations against Mosul have already started,” Dunford said at the Pentagon on Monday. “In other words, you know, we’re isolating Mosul, even as we speak—the same thing with Raqqa. So it is not something that will happen in the deep, deep future.”