The U.S. military said Thursday that Iraq's military is "months" away from a major offensive to retake territory lost to the Islamic State group.
Iraqi Kurdish militia fighters known as the peshmerga are preparing to travel to the Syria-Turkey border to defend the city of Kobani against the IS fighters, but according to U.S. Central Command officials, a sustained ground offensive in Iraq will require more time.
A military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said an offensive is “not imminent. But we don't see that that's a years-long effort to get them to a place to where they can be able to go on a sustained counter-offensive."
The officials, briefing a group of reporters, also said Iraq's western Anbar province is still contested, despite U.S.-led air strikes.
The U.S. has continued its aerial bombardment against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Central Command said Thursday it carried out nine strikes in Iraq and six in Syria in the last day.
Syrian activists say more than a month of the American-led airstrikes in Syria have killed 553 people, mostly militants with the Islamic State and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deaths include 464 Islamic State fighters and 32 civilians.
U.S. fighter jets, along with Arab partner nations, have carried out more than 200 airstrikes in Syria since September 22 as part of an expanded effort to halt the militant group.
At least 300 coalition airstrikes have also targeted the IS in Iraq, where the militants swept through large areas of the northern and western parts of the country in recent months.
Daily reports from the U.S. military show the air strikes are largely successful, often targeting vehicles, command posts and IS-occupied buildings.
Earlier this week, the Defense Department said a stray bundle of weapons and ammunition that U.S. cargo planes intended to drop for Kurds in northern Syria likely ended up in the hands of Islamic State fighters.
Video from a pro-Islamic State media group shows a masked fighter inspecting hand grenades, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers as he voiced delight.
Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren said the weapons are not enough to give the militants an advantage in the battle for Kobani.