“Ac­cord­ing to plan” in Mo­sul

U.S. says 2,000 Is­lamic State fight­ers killed or se­ri­ously wounded

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Robert Burns

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.

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