US lieutenant colonel Stuart James, commander of a battalion assisting Iraqi security forces, said there would be a new assault on Mosul strongholds controlled by the Islamic State (IS) within days in the north of Iraq.
“Right now, positioning forces and positioning men and equipment into the interior of east Mosul…it’s going to happen in the next several days,” James told the Reuters news agency in a report published Monday.
The battle for Mosul involves 100,000 Iraqi troops, Kurdish security forces and Shiite militias.
US advisers are part of an international coalition that has conducted thousands of air strikes and trained tens of thousands of Iraqi ground troops. They are to work directly with those forces and an elite Interior Ministry strike force. It may present the largest combat role for US troops since US President Barack Obama withdrew forces from Iraq in 2011.
James believes chances of success come down to the strength of IS resistance, especially early on. “If we achieve great success on the first day and we gain momentum, then it may go very quickly. If (IS) fights very hard the first day and we run into a roadblock and we have to go back and go ‘OK that was not the correct point of penetration,’ it may take longer,” James said.
The US commander said greater integration with Iraqi troops would be necessary to retake the city from IS, with co-ordination over surveillance, air support and movement. “It increases our situational understanding. The man on the ground best knows what’s going,” James commented to Reuters.
There are up to 1.5 million people of a pre-war population of 2 million still living in Mosul. The western section of the city has yet to be penetrated by Iraqi forces. Built-up markets and narrow alleys are likely to make future advances more difficult.
Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi said he would win back Mosul by the end of 2016.