WASHINGTON - Top U.S. military intelligence officials are playing down expectations that the Iraqi Security Forces will be ready to reclaim the key northern city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters anytime soon.
The Defense Intelligence Agency chief, Marine Corps Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, told the House Armed Services Committee that while “every effort” is being made to “get after” Mosul, Iraqi forces are not ready to engage in the difficult, large-scale urban fight.
“Taking and securing Mosul in the next eight to 10 months is not something I’m seeing in my crystal ball," Stewart said Wednesday.
“They’ll need a significant amount of help from coalition partners," he said. "I don’t know they will ask for that help.”
U.S. military planners see Mosul as a critical next step in the effort to destroy the Islamic State terror group in Iraq, but have warned it will not be easy.
Up to 10 brigades
Officials have said the campaign to recapture Mosul will require as many as eight Iraqi brigades and two Kurdish brigades, each with 2,000 to 3,000 troops. And some of the brigades are being built from scratch, with training expected to take just over two months.
“We can begin the operations. We can begin to isolate,” Stewart said. “We can do some of the preparatory work."
On Monday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joe Dunford told Pentagon reporters those efforts were underway.
“Operations against Mosul have already started, even as we speak,” Dunford said, adding the efforts included both conventional military strikes and the use of cyber warfare.
“It is not something that will happen in the deep, deep future,” he added.
U.S. Central Command said Wednesday that the U.S.-led coalition’s air campaign targeted Islamic State positions in Mosul 127 times during the past month, making it more difficult for supplies and reinforcements to get into the city.
“That pressure is having an effect,” CENTCOM spokesman Colonel Pat Ryder told reporters. “We’ve had reports of militants fleeing the city.” Over time, coalition operations and Iraqi ground forces "have pushed back ISIL’s defense," he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
The United States is promising Iraqi forces more help for a final assault on the city.
“We expect it to be like Ramadi in the sense that the Iraqi security forces under the control of the government of Iraq, Prime Minister [Haider al-] Abadi, will be in the lead, but we will be enabling them,” Carter said.
“Will we do more to enable them as they go north? Yes, we fully expect to do that," he said.
.VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.