|Iraq's Second Largest City, Mosul|
Preparations are underway by coalition and Iraqi forces to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists, an operation that could begin as early as April and will require an Iraqi-led military force of at least 20,000 troops, a U.S. Central Command official said today.
The official, who briefed Pentagon reporters on background, said military planners would like to see the battle for Mosul begin in the April or May time frame, but said the timing will be dependent upon Iraqi and Kurdish forces being adequately prepared for the fight. Later than that, he said, the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the onset of hot weather in the region could complicate matters.
The official said discussion continues at the highest levels of the U.S. government over whether U.S. military advisors could be deployed to frontline battlefield positions to assist Iraqi and Kurdish fighters.
The fight to retake Mosul would be the biggest battle since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve, which began with U.S. and coalition airstrikes on ISIL targets last August, after the terrorist group swept into Iraq from neighboring Syria. ISIL seized wide swaths of territory, executing non-believers as well as hostages and members of minority groups, all in an effort to establish a caliphate across the Iraqi-Syria border.
U.S. and coalition forces have been working to train thousands of Iraqi fighters to reclaim territory ahead of the battle for Mosul, the official said. Efforts are also underway to train moderate opposition fighters in Syria.
Anti-ISIL Campaign Succeeding
While there have been setbacks, the Centcom official said the coalition military campaign has succeeded in putting ISIL on the defensive, with the terrorist group losing territory in Iraq as well as the ability to govern and adequately regenerate forces.
“There is no organization in the world that can suffer those kinds of casualties and not have a tremendous impact on their ability to achieve their long-term aims,” the official said.
Iraqi forces have retaken at least 700 square kilometers of territory, according to the official, who said the military campaign against ISIL is going well but it will take time to defeat the terrorists.
“Mosul will not be easy,” he said. “It’s going to be a difficult fight.”