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Obama: Liberation of Mosul could come quickly

President said that US-backed Iraqi troops could be in a position ‘fairly rapidly’ to liberate the city from ISIS

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President Barack Obama said Monday that US-backed Iraqi troops could be in a position “fairly rapidly” to liberate the northern city of Mosul from ISIS. But, speaking ahead of talks with Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the US leader warned: “This is going to be hard, this is going to be challenging.”

ISIS militants seized Mosul, Iraq’s cosmopolitan and religiously mixed second city, in June 2014 in a lightning offensive through the north and west of the country. The defeat exposed deep flaws in Iraq’s military, but since then a US-led coalition has sent military advisors and attack jets to bolster the government side.

The United States alone now has 4,460 troops in the country, backed by hundreds more from Western allies, advising and assisting Iraqi and Kurdish forces. “We feel confident that we will be in a position to move forward fairly rapidly,” Obama said, vowing to fight “right at the heart of the ISIL operation in Mosul.”

“This is going to be a challenging battle, Mosul is a large city,” he warned. He said the operation must drive out the ISIS but also reassure the populace so that the “extremist ideology born out of desperation will not return.”

General speaks

Iraq’s forces for its long-awaited push on Mosul will be ready in October, the top US general said on Monday, in the latest sign that a full-fledged campaign to recapture the city from ISIS is fast approaching.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a small group of reporters that the timing of the offensive, however, would be up to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

“They will have all of the forces that they need and it will be a political decision by Prime Minister Abadi as to when operations actually are conducted,” Dunford said as he flew home from talks with US allies in Europe.

“But our job is to actually help the Iraqis generate the forces and the support necessary for operations in Mosul and we’ll be ready for that in October.”

Mosul has been the largest urban center under the militants’ control, with a prewar population of nearly 2 million. It was from Mosul’s Grand Mosque in 2014 that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” spanning regions of Iraq and Syria.

Pentagon planners have cautioned that the battle for Mosul could present a mixed picture for war planners, with ISIS likely to retreat in some areas of the city only to reinforce in others.

(With Reuters)