“According to plan” in Mosul
U.S. says 2,000 Islamic State fighters killed or seriously wounded
qayara air base, iraq» Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition forces have killed or gravely wounded more than 2,000 Islamic State fighters in the battle for Mosul since October, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Sunday.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told reporters there are still an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 Islamic State fighters defending Mosul. He applauded the efforts of Iraqi security forces, who began their offensive Oct. 17 in what has been billed a decisive phase of the fight against the Islamic State.
“By our calculations, we think we have killed or badly wounded over 2,000,” Townsend said at a joint news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter at Qayara air base.
Iraqi security forces have been slowed in their nearly 2-month-old offensive against the Islamic State, which has occupied Mosul for more than two years. U.S. officials have declined to say how many Iraqi government troops have been killed in the Mosul fight.
Recapturing the city, Iraq’s second-largest, is crucial to the Iraqis’ hopes of restoring their sovereignty, although political stability likely will remain a challenge afterward.
Iraqi forces have won back only a handful of eastern Mosul neighborhoods since launching the offensive in mid-October. On Sunday they came under mortar fire as they worked to clear villages along the Tigris River to the south, part of operations to secure supply lines for a campaign that is likely to stretch into the coming year.
Townsend disputed any suggestion that the Islamic State has managed to fight the Iraqi government forces to standstill in Mosul.
After citing the estimated 2,000 Islamic State casualties, he added, “I don’t think that suggests anything about a stalemate. This is a major urban area. Any army on the planet, including the United States Army, would be challenged by this fight.”
“The Iraqi army has come back from near-defeat two years ago, and now they are attacking this major city,” Townsend said. “I don’t think there is anything in there about a stalemate.” Mosul is about 250 miles from Baghdad.
Townsend said U.S. intelligence estimated before the Mosul campaign kicked off that the Islamic State had 3,500 to 6,000 fighters in the city. He said the current estimate is 3,000 to 5,000.
Pentagon chief Carter made an unannounced visit Sunday to the Qayara base, flying in from Baghdad after meeting with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and sharing lunch with American troops.
It was Carter’s first visit to Qayara since it began operating as an Iraqi staging base in October.
Amid Aleppo offensive, Islamic State recaptures Syria’s Palmyra. Islamic
State militants reoccupied Palmyra on Sunday, taking the ancient central city from government troops in a major advance after a year of setbacks in Syria and neighboring Iraq, a Syrian government official and the group said.
In retaking Palmyra, the extremist group appeared to be taking advantage of the Syrian and Russian preoccupation with Aleppo, timing its attack to coincide with a massive government offensive to capture the last remaining opposition-held neighborhoods in the northern city. The Associated Press
Carter toured the air base, greeting soldiers and offering holiday wishes. He assured them the Mosul campaign is on track.
“Everything is going according to the plan of a year ago,” Carter said.
On Saturday in Bahrain, Carter announced he is sending an additional 200 troops to Syria to train and advise local fighters combatting the Islamic State. There are already 300 U.S. troops authorized for the Syria effort, and some 5,000 in Iraq.