Just days after the Iraqi government announced the recapture of Fallujah from the Islamic State, President Obama’s special envoy in the fight against the terror group said Tuesday that its days occupying Mosul are numbered.
Though the envoy, Brett McGurk, would not put a timeline on Mosul, he said that plans to retake Iraq’s second-largest city are underway. On top of reclaiming territory in Iraq, Mr. McGurk said, once the operation against the Islamic-State-held city of Manbij in northern Syria is complete, forces can move on to overcoming Raqqa — the militant group’s de facto capital in north-central Syria.
“We will push them out of Mosul, and we will push them out of Raqqa,” Mr. McGurk told a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “The Manbij operation, it’s ongoing right now, it’s hard fighting. Once that is done, that sets the conditions for Raqqa.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, was one of several lawmakers voicing concern the Islamic State, as it loses territory, will accelerate efforts to inspire “lone wolf” attacks in the West like the shooting this month in Orlando, Florida.
Mr. McGurk said the Islamic State has always called for its fighters to conduct individual attacks, which are “extraordinarily difficult” to stop. He said this threat will last for years but will not stop the drive by the U.S. and its allies in the region to retake Islamic State-held land. He said advances on the ground have produced intelligence on potential agents abroad.
“As we take back important territory, we are collecting substantial amounts of information about the foreign fighter network and about how it’s put together and who leads it,” Mr. McGurk said.
As the Islamic State — also known as ISIS or ISIL — loses territory, Mr. McGurk said, it’s harder for the terrorist group’s leadership to organize sophisticated attacks like those in Brussels and Paris, and to move fighters on the ground.
Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, said he has yet to see a game plan from the Obama administration that actually leads to the defeat of the Islamic State. Mr. Johnson compared the administration’s campaign to poking a beehive, which serves only to make the bees angrier and more dangerous.
Mr. McGurk said the U.S. is moving as quickly as possible to regain important territory, noting that the Islamic State has not reclaimed any significant territory that coalition-backed forces have liberated.
“We are moving at a tempo that I believe will lead to the ultimate defeat of ISIL,” Mr. McGurk said.