(The Washington Times newspaper) It was a strong opening, but the endgame is proving a hard slog for the U.S. and its Iraqi allies trying to oust ISIS fighters from their last big outpost in the country.
U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have made progress extracting ISIS fighters from their last redoubts in the northern city of Mosul, but the battle has descended into a frustratingly bloody affair at its six-month milestone with brutal street-by-street combat.
Iraqi and coalition forces have been building steady momentum against ISIS in a series of hard-fought battlefield victories since the massive assault to retake Mosul began in October, the top U.S. ground commander, Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, said Wednesday.
“They’ve got the equipment they need, they’ve got the momentum they need and that’s why they’re making progress each and every day,” Gen. Martin told reporters during a teleconference from coalition headquarters in Baghdad.
The pace of the fighting has become a political issue in the U.S. after Donald Trump on the campaign trail last year charged that the Mosul offensive was “bogging down” because of the Obama administration’s huge advance warning before the first shots were fired. The capture of Mosul would deprive ISIS of its last major foothold in Iraq even as the U.S. and its allies in Syria lay siege to the terrorist group’s de facto capital of Raqqa.
A few thousand ISIS fighters have dug in for the final battle. In the Old City, heavy smoke was rising from the area of the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” spanning parts of Iraq and Syria, the Reuters news agency reported Wednesday.