General: Mosul battle to last ‘weeks, possibly longer’

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The battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will likely last “weeks, possibly longer,” the commander of the U.S.-led coalition said Monday as the long-awaited offensive got underway.

“This operation to regain control of Iraq’s second-largest city will likely continue for weeks, possibly longer,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said in a video statement. “Iraq is supported by a wide range of coalition capabilities, including air support, artillery, intelligence, advisors and forward air controllers.  But to be clear, the thousands of ground combat forces who will liberate Mosul are all Iraqis.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the offensive early Monday morning.

Iraqi and coalition forces for months have been preparing for the battle, which is expected to be the most difficult of the campaign to date.

ISIS took Mosul in 2014, and shortly thereafter ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the formation of a self-styled caliphate from the pulpit of one of the city’s mosques.

On Monday, the Iraqi military reported that it had already inflicted “heavy losses of life and equipment” on ISIS in a district southeast of the city, according to CNN.

Kurdish forces also seized several villages in the first hours of the campaign, according to the BBC.

In his video statement, Townsend expressed confidence that Iraqi forces will defeat ISIS.

“We can’t predict how long it will take for the Iraqi Security Forces to defeat Da’esh in Mosul. But we know they will succeed—just as they did in Bayji, in Ramadi, in Fallujah and, more recently in Qayyarah and Sharqat,” he said, using an Arabic name for ISIS.

On Sunday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter called the battle a “decisive moment” in the fight against ISIS.

“This is a decisive moment in the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat,” he said in a statement, using the administration’s preferred acronym. “The United States and the rest of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga fighters and the people of Iraq in the difficult fight ahead. We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from ISIL’s hatred and brutality.”

Up to 1 million people could be displaced by the battle, with up to 700,000 needing emergency accommodation, the United Nations warned Monday, laying out a worst-case scenario.

“Civilians in Mosul could face multiple threats from cross-fire, sniper attacks, booby traps and explosive remnants of war,” a U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs update said. “Responders fear that tens of thousands of Iraqi girls, boys, women and men may be forcibly expelled, trapped between conflict lines, held under siege or used as human shields.”

As of Sunday, 27 camps with room for 60,084 displaced people have been set up, according to the U.N. Plots for another 250,464 people are planned or under construction.

But the U.N. warned that funding has been insufficient for a worst-case scenario.

“Despite generous contributions from donor countries, funding has been insufficient to prepare fully for the worst-case scenario,” Stephen O’Brien, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said in a statement Sunday. “With the resources available, humanitarian partners have done their best to prepare as efficiently as possible. Working under some of the most difficult and insecure conditions in the world, humanitarian partners will be doing everything possible to help as many people as possible in the days and weeks ahead.”

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