Iraq, backed by an international coalition led by the United States, is preparing to launch an offensive to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State later this year, Reuters reports.
The jihadist insurgents have lost more than half the territory they seized in Iraq and nearly as much in neighboring Syria, but still manage to control their twin capitals of Mosul and Raqqa.
Military and humanitarian preparations are now in full swing to retake Mosul, where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his “caliphate” two years ago.
American troops are establishing a logistics hub to the south, while the United Nations warns of the world’s most complex humanitarian operation this year.
Iraq’s recapture over the summer of Qayyara airbase and surrounding areas along the Tigris river 60 km (nearly 40 miles) south of Mosul have set the stage for a big push on the city, which commanders say could start by late October.
Whether Islamic State makes a final stand in Mosul or slips away to fight another day remains in question.
But Baghdad expects a fierce battle and the international coalition backing it is preparing for one.
The densely populated river valley may hold obstacles for the military, though Islamic State appears to be putting up relatively little resistance, possibly to conserve fighters for a showdown in Mosul where their forces are estimated at between 3,000 and 9,000.
Hardcore fighters have likely slipped out already through the desert and into Syria, while many top leaders and foreign fighters have been killed in targeted air strikes, according to Major General Najm al-Jabouri, the Mosul operation’s commander.
He told Reuters that victory by year’s end would be easy, in keeping with pledges by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
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