US: Iraqi military ready for next battle against Daesh

Iraqi soldiers participate in a live ammunition training exercise with trainers from coalition forces at Taji military base north of Baghdad recently. (Reuters)
Updated 19 August 2017
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US: Iraqi military ready for next battle against Daesh

BAGHDAD: Senior US military leaders said Friday that Iraqi forces are largely set for their next major campaign against Daesh after closing out the wrenching nine-month battle to retake the city of Mosul.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top US commander in Iraq, said he sees the Iraqi assault on Daesh-held area of Tal Afar "unfolding relatively soon."
The upcoming fight follows weeks of Iraq regrouping troops and repairing equipment and weapons after recapturing Mosul in July.
"I can't say that we replaced every single damaged or broken vehicle or rifle or machine gun," said Townsend, whose forces are aiding the Iraqi military. But, he insisted: "They'll be ready enough."
Tal Afar and the surrounding area is among the last pockets of Daesh-held territory in Iraq after victory was declared in Mosul, the country's second-largest city.
Tal Afar is west of Mosul and about 150 km east of the Syrian border. It sits along a major road that was a key Daesh supply route.
Mosul took a heavy toll on Iraqi forces.
As many as 1,400 troops were killed and more than 7,000 wounded, and the Iraqi military has proceeded methodically since its biggest success to date. Just three years ago, its soldiers were chased by Daesh from much of the battlefield.
"The last days of Mosul looked like Iwo Jima to me," Townsend told a small group of reporters.
"In the end, it took bulldozers plowing ISIS (Daesh) fighters under the rubble," he recalled, using multiple different acronyms for the extremist group.
"Iraqi infantry men advanced beside the bulldozers, shooting and throwing grenades at Daesh fighters popping up out of the rubble."
Iraiqi Humvees emerged shot up, their glass spider-webbed with bullet marks and shrapnel, their weapons worn out or even destroyed.
In the weeks since, much of the Iraqis' equipment has been repaired or replaced, said Gen. Joseph Votel, America's top Middle East commander who spent the last few days in Iraq.
"I think they are ready," Votel told reporters, echoing Townsend.
The key priority, he said, is ensuring the Iraqis maintain momentum and have a good battle plan, and that the US-led coalition is prepared to support them.
Votel met with Iraqi military and political leaders in Baghdad and with Kurdish Peshmerga leaders in Irbil, in northern Iraq. He was ensuring US military advisory teams are with the right local units to provide the best support, intelligence gathering, surveillance and advice.
Iraqi military leaders said Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has approved their combat plans.
The fight will involve a broad spectrum of forces, including the Iraqi Army, counterterrorism troops, police and a group of mainly Shiite, Iranian-backed militias.
The fight will start "in the next few days," Iraqi Brig. Gen. Yahia Rasool said.
Speaking through an interpreter, he said officials believe there are between 1,400 and 1,600 Daesh militants in the Tal Afar area. Many are foreign fighters, he said.
Rasool said the various Iraqi forces already have largely encircled Tal Afar.
"I don't think it will be tougher than the battle of Mosul, taking into consideration the experience we got in Mosul," he said
Townsend said the fight for Tal Afar will be a "microcosm" of Mosul, with parts easier and others equally difficult.
"It's smaller and there are fewer bad guys," Townsend said.
"But for the Iraqi security force member or policeman or infantry man or special forces soldier who's attacking, it won't be easier. He's going to be facing a determined ISIS fighter dug into Tal Afar, determined to fight to the death."


Syria state media says US-led coalition hits regime position in east

Updated 29 min 59 sec ago
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Syria state media says US-led coalition hits regime position in east

  • In the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian government forces have carried out parallel but separate offensives against Daesh
  • Regime forces control land west of the Euphrates River that runs through the province

DAMASCUS: Syrian state media said overnight Sunday to Monday that US-led coalition aircraft had carried out a deadly strike on a regime position in the country’s east near the Iraqi border.
Both US-backed Kurdish-led fighters and Russia-supported regime forces are separately fighting the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria’s eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
“Aircraft of the American coalition bombarded one of our military positions in the area of Al-Hari southeast of Albu Kamal” town in Deir Ezzor, state news agency SANA reported a military source as saying, adding a number of people had been killed.
IS overran large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, declaring a “caliphate” in areas they controlled.
But the jihadists have since lost most of that territory, in Syria seeing their presence largely reduced to the country’s vast desert and a few villages near the frontier with Iraq.
In the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian government forces have carried out parallel but separate offensives against Daesh.
Regime forces control land west of the Euphrates River that runs through the province, while the SDF are battling to expel IS from a string of villages on the river’s eastern banks near the Iraqi border.
Both sides have mostly avoided running into each other and a deconfliction line exists to avoid such incidents.
But there have been exceptions.
In April, rare clashes broke out between both sides, killing more than a dozen combatants.
In February, the US-led coalition backing the SDF carried out air strikes in Deir Ezzor province that killed at least 100 pro-regime fighters.
Washington said the strikes were in retaliation for an attack on its own personnel and SDF forces.