US Commander Expects Counter-IS Forces to Take Mosul, Raqqa in 6 Months

U.S. Army Lt Gen. Stephen Townsend during a tour north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/ Ali Abdul Hassan)

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend (center right) speaks with an Iraqi officer during a visit to an area north of Baghdad, Feb. 8, 2017.

The top U.S. commander on the ground in Iraq says that he expects counter-Islamic State forces to retake the cities of Mosul and Raqqa from the terror group within the next six months.

Speaking north of Baghdad Wednesday, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said Islamic State fighters will still be around in the next few months “but they can’t lay claim that they have a physical caliphate.”

Iraqi forces have retaken control of Mosul east of the Tigris River and are expected to soon move into the western part of the city. Mosul is Iraq’s second-largest city and the most populated city taken by Islamic State forces.

Raqqa almost surrounded

As for Raqqa, the U.S.-led coalition expects Islamic State’s de facto capital to be isolated “within the next few weeks,” coalition spokesman Col. John Dorrian told reporters via teleconference from Baghdad Wednesday.

Anti-IS fighters are pushing into Raqqa from the north, northeast and northwest.

When pressed on whether the city could be “isolated” without anti-IS fighters pushing into the city from the south, Dorrian said that although Raqqa would not be completely encircled, “it will be very difficult to get into or out of the city.”

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA’s Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.