Mosul could be liberated from IS in three months, says Iraqi commander
The operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group could be complete in three months or less, a top Iraqi commander has said.
"It is possible" the city will be liberated in that timeframe, Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati said in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday evening.
However, he warned it is difficult to give an accurate estimate of how long the operation will take because it is not a conventional fight.
"There are many variables," he said, describing the combat as "guerrilla warfare".
The massive offensive involving some 30,000 Iraqi forces was launched in October and Iraqi leaders originally pledged that the city would be retaken before 2017. However, as the fight enters its fourth month, only about a third of the city is under government control.
Iraqi forces - largely led by special forces - have slowly advanced across the east of Mosul.
Fierce IS counter-attacks have killed and injured hundreds of Iraqi troops and inflicted considerable damage to Iraqi military equipment.
Repeatedly, after what appeared to be swift progress on the ground, Iraqi forces have been pushed back by IS counter-attacks overnight.
However, Lt Gen Shaghati said the counter-attacks - specifically car bombings - have slowed. He estimated his forces are seeing less than half the number of IS car bomb attacks on the front than they were faced with when the operation first began.
The US-led coalition bombed the bridges spanning the River Tigris connecting Mosul's east and west in November in an effort to stop the flow of car bombs to Iraqi frontline positions in the eastern half of the city.
Lt Gen Shaghati, the top commander of Iraq's special forces and the commander of Iraq's Joint Military Operation, said that while many forces are participating in the Mosul fight, Iraq's special forces are the only troops with the skills to fight IS.
"The forces who have the skills to fight guerrilla warfare is only the CTS," he said using an alternative acronym for Iraq's special forces who are also called the counter-terrorism forces. "They have flexibility and can act quickly."
For the Mosul operation to continue, he said Iraqi forces need to continue to receive support and equipment from the US-led coalition. Since the Mosul operation began, the coalition says its planes have launched thousands of air strikes in and around Iraq's second largest city.
Although Lt Gen Shaghati said he believes the beginning of the Mosul operation marked the end of IS in Iraq, the country is likely to struggle with terrorist threats long after IS is defeated in Mosul.
When asked if he expected levels of support to change when US President-elect Donald Trump takes office this month, he said: "We believe that the support of our American friends is continuing and ongoing."