Pentagon chief in Irbil for assessment of Mosul fight
IRBIL, IRAQ >> U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited Irbil on Sunday for a closer assessment of the fight against the Islamic State group in northern Iraq and to hear from Kurdish leaders whose forces launched a new offensive in the operation to wrest Mosul from the militants.
Carter met with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, as well as U.S. service members, who are not far from the battle. The Pentagon chief said Barzani reported some good news about peshmerga gains against IS in Bashiqa, about 15 miles northeast of Mosul.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters that the information he has gathered suggests Barzani was correct and that there has been “considerable success” in the town. Townsend said he didn’t know whether any fighting was still going on in the town center and whether every house had been cleared, but he largely confirmed the peshmerga’s success and said the Kurdish forces merit recognition for their success.
Carter said he wants to see military operations to isolate IS fighters in Raqqa, Syria, to begin “as soon as possible.” He said there will be simultaneous operations in Mosul and Raqqa, and that the United States would coordinate in Raqqa with its partners. The U.S. has been working with Syrian rebel fighters.
Townsend said the U.S.led coalition has had success killing IS leaders, which helps with the Raqqa fight.
During the meeting with Barzani, Carter praised the efforts of the Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, and acknowledged their battle losses.
“They fight extremely well. But because they’re fighting hard, they suffer ... casualties,” said Carter, who spent Saturday in Baghdad getting updates from his military leadership and meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The U.S. is prepared to provide additional support for the fight if requested by Iraq and U.S. commanders, Carter said in the capital.
Peshmerga Brig. Gen. Halgord Hekmet, a spokesman for the Kurdish forces, told reporters that 25 of their troops have been killed since the battle to retake Mosul began and a “large number” had been wounded.