US commander expects recapture soon of Islamic State strongholds: Spokesman

By: | Published: February 9, 2017 3:48 AM

The top American commander in Iraq believes U.S.-backed forces will recapture Islamic State's two major strongholds - the cities of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq

The spokesman, Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, confirmed reported remarks by U.S. Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend. (Reuters)The spokesman, Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, confirmed reported remarks by U.S. Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend. (Reuters)

The top American commander in Iraq believes U.S.-backed forces will recapture Islamic State’s two major strongholds – the cities of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq – within the next six months, his spokesman said on Wednesday. The spokesman, Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, confirmed reported remarks by U.S. Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend.

Townsend was quoted as telling the Associated Press that “within the next six months I think we’ll see both (the Mosul and Raqqa campaigns) conclude.” The latest word on the fight against Islamic State came as the U.S. military was developing a plan at President Donald Trump’s request to accelerate the campaign to defeat the militant group. The plan is due late this month.

Islamic State has in recent months been weakened on many fronts, with its territory in parts of Iraq and Syria shrinking. In Iraq, Islamic State has lost territory in and around its northern stronghold of Mosul since U.S.-backed Iraqi forces last October began the biggest ground operation in the country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Islamic State still holds swaths of Syrian territory and is putting up fierce resistance in Raqqa, its capital in eastern Syria.

It holds around 90 percent of the province of Deir Ez-Zor near the Iraqi border, along with Raqqa and some parts of the eastern countryside of Aleppo in northern Syria. It also controls Palmyra and some pockets in Deraa in the south. Dorrian, speaking earlier to Pentagon reporters, said he expected U.S.-backed forces on the ground in Syria to nearly isolate Raqqa in coming weeks, setting the stage for a push to seize the city.

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“What we would expect is that within the next few weeks is that the city would be nearly completely isolated and then there will be a decision point to move in,” Dorrian said. U.S. military leaders have warned that Islamic State will likely turn into a more classic insurgency once it loses Raqqa and Mosul, meaning the broader fight could stretch on for years.

Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said recapturing Mosul seemed to be on track, but he was more cautious on the timeline for Raqqa. “To take (Raqqa) and hold it, that would be hard, nothing is impossible, but it would be hard,” Tabler said. He added that there were questions about the amount of resources that would be needed and the composition of forces, which made the situation in Syria more unpredictable.

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