U.S. gets ready for Mosul of­fen­sive

Pen­tagon send­ing 600 more troops to Iraq to help re­take key city from ISIS

Baltimore Sun - - NA­TION & WORLD - By W.J. Hen­ni­gan

AL­BU­QUERQUE, N.M. — The Pen­tagon plans to send more than 600 ad­di­tional troops to Iraq to help launch a long-awaited of­fen­sive to re­take Mosul in com­ing weeks, the most am­bi­tious oper­a­tion yet in the two-year mil­i­tary cam­paign against Is­lamic State.

The es­ca­la­tion, which has been ap­proved by the White House, sug­gests the chal­lenges U.S.-backed Iraqi ground forces will face in as­sault­ing a heav­ily de­fended ma­jor ur­ban cen­ter that is the cap­i­tal of Is­lamic State’s self-de­clared caliphate in Iraq and the largest city un­der its con­trol any­where.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama would like to see the mil­i­tants ejected or de­feated in Iraq be­fore he leaves of­fice in Jan­uary.

The Pen­tagon has about 6,000 troops, mostly op­er­at­ing as ad­vis­ers and train­ers, in Iraq. Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pres­ence is mostly Army Capt. Ger­rard Spin­ney con­fers with his Iraqi coun­ter­part this month be­fore a meet­ing at Camp Swift in Iraq. The groups that make up Iraq’s forces are con­verg­ing on Mosul. with the U.S.-led coali­tion war­planes based out­side Iraq that have car­ried out thou­sands of airstrikes since mid-2014.Most of the new U.S. troops will be de­ployed to Qay­yarah, an Iraqi air base known as Q-West, about 40 miles south of Mosul that has be­come a key stag­ing base for the planned as­sault. Some also will be de­ployed to the al-Asad air base, which is far­ther west in An­bar prov­ince, to help with lo­gis­tics.

A small com­po­nent of special op­er­a­tions forces will also be dis­patched to help Iraqi com­man­ders gather and an­a­lyze in­tel­li­gence from the bat­tle­field.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, com­man­der of U.S. forces in Iraq, must give his ap­proval for the ad­vis­ers to ac­com­pany Iraqi troops at the bat­tal­ion level, mean­ing they could op­er­ate closer to the front line. U.S. ad­vis­ers thus far have been largely con­fined to Iraqi division head­quar­ters.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter said Wed­nes­day that the Pen­tagon plans to send “ap­prox­i­mately 600 troops.” Ase­nior de­fense of­fi­cial said 615 troops will be de­ployed.

Carter said they will help Iraqi forces and Kur­dish fight­ers to “iso­late and col­lapse” Is­lamic State’s con­trol over Mosul and “to pro­tect and ex­pand Iraqi se­cu­rity forces gains else­where.”

“The Iraqi se­cu­rity forces have the com­bat role and we’re in the sup­port role, but I need to make clear: Amer­i­can forces com­bat­ing ISIL are in harm’s way,” he said, us­ing an acro­nym for the group also known as ISIS.

Carter said the Pen­tagon does not know if the mil­i­tants plan to fight street by street for Mosul, as many have feared, or will aban­don the city be­fore the as­sault, as has hap­pened in sev­eral bat­tles re­cently. “Nor do we know whether they will be able to carry out what­ever plans they have,” he said. It’s un­clear “whether their fight­ers will stick with them, whether they will have the morale to do that, (and) whether the pop­u­lace of Mosul will tol­er­ate their con­tin­ued pres­ence in the city.”

Sur­veil­lance drones and spy satel­lites have seen fight­ers build­ing de­fen­sive po­si­tions inside Mosul, although the mil­i­tants have sought to hide their ac­tiv­ity with smoke from fires.

U.S. planes have also sought to un­der­mine sup­port for the mil­i­tants, and warn of the as­sault, by drop­ping pro­pa­ganda leaflets on the city.

The of­fen­sive, first promised in 2015, has been re­peat­edly post­poned as Iraqi se­cu­rity forces fo­cused on re­train­ing and on push­ing the mil­i­tants from other cities and towns closer to Bagh­dad, the cap­i­tal.

Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al- Abadi said Wed­nes­day that he had re­quested more U.S. troops af­ter “con­sul­ta­tion” with Obama. The two lead­ers met Sept. 19 on the side­lines of the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly in New York.

Al-Abadi said “the role of the train­ers and ad­vis­ers is not com­bat, but for train­ing and con­sul­ta­tion only.”

“It is our troops who will lib­er­ate the land,” he said.

Kur­dish troops will co­or­di­nate with Iraqi and coali­tion forces in the at­tack.

In re­cent weeks, Iraqi and Kur­dish ground forces have re­taken towns and cities around Mosul and have cut off ma­jor sup­ply routes.

“The pres­i­dent reg­u­larly asks: ‘Could we make more progress if we de­vote ad­di­tional re­sources to that eff ort?’ ” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tues­day about Obama. “And when the an­swer to that ques­tion is yes, the pres­i­dent has worked very closely with his team to find those re­sources and to de­vote them to that ef­fort in a timely fash­ion.”


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