On the heels of Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s visit to Baghdad, Iraq, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff arrived in Iraq’s capital city on Wednesday for talks with Iraqi, American and coalition officials.
Gen. Joe Dunford’s visit seeks to build on that visit and on the momentum in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The Iraqis have pushed back against the terror group, defense officials have said in recent news briefings. Iraqi forces cleared ISIL out of Beiji and Ramadi and, according to today’s briefing by Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren, have liberated Hit. The next logical step, officials said, is to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the largest city that ISIL still controls.
It is a complicated step, the officials noted. Mosul is a majority Sunni city with a significant Kurdish population. Before ISIL took the city, there were about 2 million Iraqis living there. Officials estimate that the civilian population has shrunk to just under a million — still a significant population.
ISIL has also had the time to put in place defenses.
Iraqi and Syrian forces have severed the links between Raqqa, Syria — ISIL’s so-called capital — and Mosul. Coalition aerial assaults have been successful in supporting indigenous forces and in killing or wounding senior ISIL terrorists.
Coalition forces are also active in training Iraqi, Syrian and peshmerga fighters. Coalition experts have trained more than 20,000 Iraqi and peshmerga soldiers, and there are 3,782 currently being trained in five sites around the country. Trainers come from the United States, Finland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Latvia, Belgium, France and Portugal.
This is Dunford’s fourth trip to Iraq since becoming chairman in October. One constant in his trips is his emphasis on putting pressure on ISIL across the board. Syrian and Iraqi military forces must attack in both countries. Political, economic and diplomatic efforts must go hand-in-hand with military operations.
By Jim Garamone