Iraqi forces continue to make steady progress in the effort to retake Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve said today.
"The Iraqi security forces had developed a lot of momentum over the past two years," Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told Pentagon reporters during a teleconference from Baghdad. "Now we're seeing that momentum continue against ISIL, our common enemy, in Mosul."
"The Mosul offensive is a large and extraordinarily complex operation that the Iraqis have been planning for a very long time," Townsend said. Iraqi forces are moving forward on multiple axes toward Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, he said, but the effort to take back the city, held by ISIL since 2014, will not be easy.
"There's a lot of hard fighting ahead but we're confident the Iraqis will be successful," Townsend said.
Iraqis to Raise Flag
The operation to liberate the city of more than a million people began Oct. 17.
The U.S. supported the planning and preparation of forces and provided advice and assistance -- to include air and artillery strikes -- the general said. In addition, the coalition has provided substantial investment, as well, he said, including weapons, equipment and training.
The relentless campaign of strikes, he said, has removed fighters, weapons and key leaders from the battlefield ahead of the Iraqi advance.
But, it is ultimately the Iraqis who are in charge of the operation, he pointed out. "They're the ones making the decisions, and their forces are the ones who will enter Mosul and raise the Iraqi flag in the center of the city," Townsend said.
The general said he attended the Iraqis' final operational briefing, where commanders responsible for an axis of advance provided their plan to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
"I can tell you that it was clear to me that night that the sovereign nation of Iraq owns this fight," he said, further commending forces for "pressing steadily forward on the battlefield."
Raqqa Offensive Coming 'Soon'
Separately, Townsend discussed retaking the Syrian city of Raqqa from ISIL. Syria is a complicated battlespace, he said, with many regional security concerns.
"It's going to be a tough -- very tough political environment and a security environment, I think, for our effort there," the general said.
Coalition allies, partners and members are working to refine the military plan for the isolation and eventual liberation of Raqqa, he said, and precision strikes continue to target ISIL’s leaders and command and control structures while reducing the terrorists’ freedom of movement.
Townsend said he believes there are sufficient forces for the Raqqa operation. Local populations are willing to fight ISIL because of its brutal tactics, the general said, and “this gives us confidence that ISIL will also be driven from Raqqa."
"Our coalition is committed to their defeat, because we understand that defeating them in Iraq and Syria is an essential step in the defeat of ISIL around the world," he said.
The effort for Raqqa will be different than for Mosul, Townsend said, noting it will be done by local partnered forces, rather than a nation's armed forces. The operation will commence "soon," the general said, declining to elaborate further.
Troops Serve 'Selflessly' With 'Great Courage'
Townsend commended the bravery, service and sacrifice of all the forces involved in the push to defeat ISIL, highlighted the "heroic sacrifices of the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces and their martyrs and their families," and praised the partners of Operation Inherent Resolve.
"I want to remind the people of the United States and of all the nations of the coalition, their troops in this region are serving selflessly and with great courage in harm's way to ensure the defeat of ISIL," the general said.
"You should be proud of their efforts as you hope and pray for their success and safety," he said, adding, "I know that I am proud to stand in their ranks."
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter @FerdinandoDoD)