Pen­tagon chief in Ir­bil for as­sess­ment of Mo­sul fight

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - WEATHER - By Lolita C. Baldor

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.

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