US Marine general predicts Mosul offensive is near

US Marine general predicts Mosul offensive is near

A Marine general who recently served as deputy commander of operations in Baghdad said he believes that an offensive to retake the city of Mosul, Iraq, from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is drawing near.

“I think it’ll probably happen in October,” said Brig. Gen. William F. Mullen III, who returned from his one-year tour in June, at a recent event hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I don’t think it’s going to take very long.” 

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Mullen, who served as director of the Combined Joint Operations Center and approved coalition air strikes in central and western Iraq, said the battle of Fallujah showed that ISIS was not willing to stay and fight once Iraqi forces moved and coalition air power struck.

“I don’t think they’re going to stick around,” he said at the Tuesday event. “Fallujah could be an example of that.” 

The Fallujah offensive took Iraqi forces backed by air power only about a month to conduct, versus the retaking of Ramadi, which took seven months. 

Mullen said part of the problem in Ramadi was that Iraqi forces were not willing to move on the ground, so ISIS stayed put and it was too difficult for U.S. forces supplying air power to distinguish between ISIS, Iraqi forces and Shia militia on the ground. 

“When you're not moving, when you're not doing anything, it's very hard for us to determine who's the enemy and who's not,” Mullen said.

He said there were days when Iraqi forces were not moving at all, since they did not want to take fire from ISIS. 

“Ramadi was tremendously frustrating,” he said. “It could have been done in a matter of weeks.” 

Mullen foresees the Iraqi counterterrorism service — consisting of elite forces — conducting the fight for Mosul, since the regular Iraqi army still has not recovered from being routed from Mosul and other major cities by ISIS in 2014. 

Mullen said there are discussions about U.S. advisers moving along with Iraqi forces, accompanying them at the brigade level, and some talks about embedding at the lower battalion level. 

“It's all part of us prodding them along,” he said. “It's keeping them in the fight, keeping them moving forward.” 

Currently, hundreds of U.S. forces are restoring an air base at Qayyarah in northern Iraq in advance of the offensive. ISIS recently attacked the air base with a crude chemical weapon — a rocket with mustard agent on it. U.S. officials said the attack was ineffective but “concerning.” 

Another challenge in retaking Mosul will be Iraqi forces' inability to stop ISIS from flowing into Syria. 

“The Iraqi security forces don't have the ability to secure the border yet,” he said, but he added that ISIS is being squeezed in Syria as well. 

He predicted the group will be “pushed underground” once Iraqi forces retake Mosul but said what happens to the group in Iraq will rely on the Iraqi government and whether it can be inclusive of the country’s Sunni minority, whose grievances helped allow ISIS — a Sunni extremist group — to gain a foothold in the country. 

“How do I measure progress there? Some of it’s the ground taken, but more importantly in Iraq, what is the Iraqi government doing with the ground that is retaken? Are they talking to Sunni tribes, are they doing some reconciliation, are they trying to build some bridges?” he said. 

“Are they trying to bring Iraq back together? And, frankly speaking, I didn't see enough of that effort, but then again I was not focused on it. So I'd like to think that there was more of that going on, but I personally didn't see it,” said Mullen, co-author of the book "Fallujah Redux." 

“I'm hoping that's going on, but hope's not a great course of action,” he said. “How the Iraqi government deals with the aftermath will determine the rest of the story.”