Islamic State insurgents are "getting weaker and weaker" in Iraq, a top U.S. military commander says, despite the jihadists claiming responsibility for three suicide bombings in Baghdad that killed at least 88 people.
Major General Gary Volesky expressed condolences for the latest carnage in the Iraqi capital while discussing the Iraqi campaign to reclaim territory held by Islamic State and the impending Iraqi effort to retake the northern city of Mosul.
Volesky, speaking from Iraq to reporters at the Defense Department outside Washington, said Iraqi forces are making "great progress" in reclaiming land lost to the insurgents.
In recent weeks, the United States has said Iraqi forces and others fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have reclaimed 40 percent of the lands once held by the jihadists.
But Volesky said he is not concerned whether the figure might even be higher, 45 or 50 percent. "I'm not looking at percentages," he said. "I'm just looking where they are and soon won't be."
No timetable for Mosul yet
He offered no timetable for an Iraqi attack on Mosul, which Islamic State fighters have held for two years. But he said Iraqi forces, supported by U.S. trainers and advisers, are now positioned 35 to 40 kilometers south of the city.
He said Iraqi forces are retaking villages one by one. "They're losing terrain every single day," Volesky said of the Islamic State fighters. "What we have seen is a clear degradation in their ability to mobilize forces."
Volesky said Iraqis "clearly understand this is their fight. They are clearly in the lead."
He said American troops "are on the tactical edge of this fight. We're there to support their fight."
He said that unlike during the U.S. war in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 that toppled one-time Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, U.S. forces now are not "working on their own," but rather are "tied to a specific operation" planned by the Iraqis.
Wednesday's car bombs in Baghdad targeted a police station, the Jamiya neighborhood and an outdoor market in Sadr City.