WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group may increase airstrikes and overhead surveillance support for the fight to retake Raqqa, Syria, now that the militants have been largely defeated in Mosul, Iraq, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told Pentagon reporters he doesn’t see a significant expansion of the U.S. and coalition effort in Raqqa. But he said he thinks there will probably be “a greater level of resourcing,” including intelligence and reconnaissance assets as well as more strikes.
“It will become more of a priority now that Mosul is concluded,” said Townsend.
The added support would aid the U.S.-backed Syrian forces who have encircled Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, breaching the fortified defenses and moving closer to the heart of the city. Officials are predicting a long, tough battle, estimating that more than 2,000 militants are holed up with their families and tens of thousands of civilians in the city’s center.
Townsend, however, cautioned that the battle in Iraq is not over. He said he believes Iraqi troops still need time to oust any remaining IS fighters from Mosul. And once that is done, he said, they will probably take a break to reset and rest before launching their fight against IS in Tal Afar and other remaining insurgent strongholds in western Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Monday declared “total victory” over the Islamic State group in Mosul, as his force claimed full control of the country’s second-largest city three years after it was seized by IS extremists intent on building a global caliphate.
The battle to retake the city raged for nine months, killing thousands and displacing nearly 900,000 from their homes.