The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State will “simultaneously” carry out operations in its de-facto capitals of Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, “as soon as possible,” declared U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
Mosul and Raqqa are the jihadist group’s last major strongholds in the Middle East.
Carter’s comments come as U.S.-backed Iraqi troops, Kurdish forces, Sunni tribesman, and Shiite militias, many backed by Iran, are engaged in an offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from ISIS.
On Sunday, the Pentagon chief and American Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the U.S.-led coalition, visited Erbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, to discuss the ongoing Mosul offensive.
“We want to see isolation operations begin, oriented at Raqqa as soon as possible,” Carter told reporters when asked to comment on coalition plans to attack ISIS in Raqqa and Mosul at the same time. “We’re working with our partners there to do that. And so there will be some simultaneity to these two operations. We’ve long anticipated that. And we are prepared for that.”
He went on to explicitly say Gen. Townsend “will be” carrying out operations in Mosul and Raqqa “simultaneously,” adding, “We think we can do that. That’s been part of our planning for quite a while.”
The Telegraph notes that U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and their allies were “around five miles from the edge” of Mosul as of Sunday.
Moreover, the newspaper points out:
A simultaneous push to capture Raqqa is likely to be complicated by the competing forces on the Syrian battlefield. While the international coalition has thrown its weight behind various Syrian rebel groups; the Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, is also ostensibly working to push [ISIS] out of the country.
U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Jason Finan, 34, of Anaheim, California, was killed on October 20 while supporting the ongoing Mosul offensive. He died of wounds sustained from an explosion linked to an improvised explosive device (IED), also known as a homemade bomb.
“Iraqi and Kurdish troops hope to be at the frontier of Mosul within days. But [ISIS] fighters have rigged buildings in the city with explosives and dug tunnels in preparation for the fight,” notes The Telegraph. “There are also fears the militants will slow the advancing assault by using some of the million trapped civilians as human shields.”