U.S. an­tic­i­pates Mo­sul of­fen­sive with 25,000 Iraqi troops

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS -

The U.S. and Iraq are plan­ning a spring of­fen­sive to re­take the city of Mo­sul that will re­quire 20,000 to 25,000 Iraqi troops to de­feat 1,000 to 2,000 Is­lamic State fighters, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial from U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand.

The main attack force of five Iraqi army brigades will need to be trained first by U.S. ad­vis­ers, said the of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity at a brief­ing Thurs­day to dis­cuss mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions. The U.S. hasn’t ruled out de­lay­ing the of­fen­sive from a planned start in April or May if more time is re­quired for train­ing, most of which has yet to begin, the of­fi­cial said.

The battle for Mo­sul, Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city, would be the first ma­jor test for Iraqi forces since many fled as Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists swept across north­ern Iraq last year to cre­ate their self-styled caliphate, or re­li­gious state.

Asked what’s changed since then, White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest said Fri­day that “the prin­ci­pal rea­son why we saw some weak­ness in the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces last year is that there was not a cen­tral gov­ern­ment that could suc­ceeded in uni­fy­ing that coun­try.”

Now, Earnest said on MSNBC, “there is a new cen­tral gov­ern­ment in place” and “we are con­fi­dent that, backed by Amer­i­can mil­i­tary air- power, they will be more ef­fec­tive on the bat­tle­field.”

Un­usual Dis­clo­sure

While some Iraqi of­fi­cials pushed for an ear­lier of­fen­sive in Mo­sul, the U.S. has re­sisted such pleas, say­ing more time is needed for train­ing.

There al­ready has been public spec­u­la­tion about a pos­si­ble Iraqi of­fen­sive this spring. The Cen­tral Com­mand of­fi­cial of­fered de­tails on the size of a force re­quired to re­cap­ture Mo­sul, which Is­lamic State seized in June.

Pro­vid­ing spe­cific in­for­ma­tion about a forth­com­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion is un­usual. When the of­fi­cial was asked why he was dis­clos­ing troop de­tails, he said his brief­ing was in­tended to de­scribe the com­mit­ment of Iraqi forces to the battle against the ex­trem­ists.

Some U.S. de­fense and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials re­main skep­ti­cal that a large Iraqi force can be ready and equipped for such a chal­leng­ing mission in the next few months, rais­ing ques­tions about whether the brief­ing may have been in­tended in part to foster the im­pres­sion that the Is­lamic State has lost the ini­tia­tive and is now on the de­fen­sive.

House-to-House

Fight­ing

Iraq has iden­ti­fied the units needed for a Mo­sul of­fen­sive, said the of­fi­cial from the Cen­tral Com­mand, which over­sees U.S. mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in the Mid­dle East.

The force will in­clude five Iraqi army brigades, three smaller brigades serv­ing as a re­serve force, three brigades from the Kur­dish Pesh­merga mil­i­tary, a lo­cal force of po­lice and tribal fighters, and some coun­tert­er­ror­ism forces, the of­fi­cial said.

House-to-house fight­ing may be re­quired to oust the Is­lamic State fighters from Mo­sul, down­play­ing the ef­fects of the U.S. and al­lied air strikes that can be pro­vided in a more open coun­try.

Kur­dish forces so far have been re­luc­tant to op­er­ate in ter­ri­tory out­side the re­gion in north­ern Iraq that they aspire to in­clude in an even­tual in­de­pen­dent state. While Shi­ite mili­tias backed by Iran have shoul­dered some of the battle against the Sunni ex­trem­ists of the Is­lamic State; they may not be as wel­come in Mo­sul, a ma­jor Sunni pop­u­la­tion cen­ter.

U.S. Sup­port

The U.S. is con­sid­er­ing of­fer­ing a range of back- ing for the of­fen­sive, such as air sup­port, in­tel­li­gence and lo­gis­tics, the of­fi­cial said. The mil­i­tary also hasn’t ruled out de­ploy­ing a small num­ber of U.S. troops on the ground to find tar­gets and call in air strikes.

While Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has pledged that U.S. forces won’t be­come em­broiled in ground com­bat in Iraq, he asked the Congress this month to ap­prove an au­tho­riza­tion for use of mil­i­tary force, or AUMF, that he said would per­mit ground mis­sions. Th­ese in­clude serv­ing as spot­ters for strikes, us­ing spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces to tar­get the Is­lamic State lead­ers, col­lect­ing in­tel­li­gence and con­duct­ing res­cue op­er­a­tions.

The U.S. and the al­lies have es­tab­lished five sites in the re­gion to train Iraqi forces. About 3,200 forces are now in train­ing and al­most 2,000 have been grad­u­ated, the of­fi­cial said.

The coali­tion forces have con­ducted about 2,500 air strikes against the Is­lamic State since Au­gust, roughly equally di­vided be­tween Iraq and Syria, the of­fi­cial said.

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