The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he expects Iraqi forces to be successful in their assault to retake Mosul and deliver a sharp blow to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Speaking to reporters after a trip to Europe, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford listed recent gains leading up to the eventual battle to retake the key northern city. Those advances, he explained, include Iraqi forces bridging the Tigris River near Qayyarah and securing the airfield there.
"The noose is gradually tightening around Mosul," he said.
The liberation of Mosul will "chip away" at the idea of a physical caliphate for ISIL, he said. Taking back Mosul and Raqqa, ISIL's so-called capital in Syria, will severely limit the terror group's capability and ability to operate in the region and beyond, he said.
"In my view, it'll be a very significant blow to the Islamic State as they lose Mosul and Raqqa and they can no longer talk about holding a physical caliphate in Syria and Iraq," Dunford said.
Iraqi leaders have identified Iraqi forces that are required for the operations to take back Mosul, the chairman said. Those forces will be ready in October, he added.
The timing of the assault, Dunford said, is a political decision that rests on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
"Our job is to actually help the Iraqis generate the forces and the support necessary for operations in Mosul and we'll be ready for that in October," the top U.S. general said.
President Barack Obama, after meeting with Abadi yesterday in New York, said he expects a tough fight for the city of more than two million people, noting ISIL has "embedded itself deeply" within Mosul.
Dunford told reporters that hearing about ISIL-inspired terrorist attacks worldwide further steels his resolve to defeat ISIL's ideology and eliminate the terrorists in Mosul and Raqqa.
"What it continues to give me is a sense of urgency for getting after the physical caliphate, undermining the virtual caliphate and eliminating the ability to conduct supported, directed or inspired attacks," he said.
This will be done through military means in cooperation with the coalition and through partners on the ground, the chairman said.
"The more aggressive we are at taking the fight to the Islamic State, wherever they happen to be, the more successful we will be in eroding their physical capability to direct attacks and support attacks," Dunford said.