Senior intelligence officials appear to be distancing themselves from a tentative timeline that a military officer established last week for invading Mosul, Iraq.
The official, who spoke to reporters on conditions of anonymity, said Feb. 19 that a U.S.-led coalition, known as Operation Inherent Resolve, was preparing to send a force of 20,000 to 25,000 Iraqi, Kurdish and tribal fighters to wrest control of Mosul from the Islamic State. The force would be expected to drive 1,000 to 2,000 Islamic State militants from Iraq’s second-largest city.
“The preparation for the forces that will participate in Mosul is ongoing right now,” the official said. “And the mark on the wall that we are still shooting for is the April/May time frame.”
The military official told reporters that the coalition wanted to launch a large-scale offensive before the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, which begins June 17.
But during a congressional hearing Thursday on worldwide threats, Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers that his best estimate is that it could take six to nine months before the Iraqi military is prepared to combat the Islamic State.
That projected time frame is tied to the training that Iraqi Security Forces require, Gen. Vincent told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Those forces are consumed with firefights and skirmishes with their Islamic extremist adversaries — a consuming venture that deprives them of learning more battle skills, he said.
“Last fall, they had about 185,000 in the Iraqi Security Force, about three divisions, the 6th, the 9th, and the 7th Division,” he said. “All three of those divisions are engaged today, so they’re not getting that continuous training. They’re engaged in operations.”
The military official was careful to make clear that the time frame for a spring offensive would remain flexible. Should some of the troops fail to be prepared for the offensive or if they have not received the equipment they need to retake the city, then that timeline could change, the official said.
“We have not closed the door on continuing to slide that to the right,” the official said.
Iraqi soldiers and about 340 Kurdish fighters who are not engaged in combat operations against the Islamic State are receiving war-fighting instructions from coalition advisers stationed at one of five training camps across the country. By mid-February, those training camps produced about 1,800 graduates, according to military data. At that time, more than 3,100 Iraqi troops remained in the training pipeline, the information shows.
Pentagon officials project that by mid-April, the training camps will yield about 5,000 Iraqi graduates — some of them with newfound special operations skills — and Kurdish fighters.