- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2016

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is growing impatient with the pace of U.S.-backed forces in Iraq and Syria in their efforts to retake Islamic State’s strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa, urging American and coalition to intensify operations in both countries, U.S. military officials said Monday.

“The secretary has not been satisfied with the pace, which is why he’s always talking about accelerating that pace,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters.

While Defense Department officials believe progress is being made against Islamic State, Mr. Carter voiced his concerns over the current tempo of the anti-Islamic State mission during regional security talks in Singapore with U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific last week.

“The secretary would like to see this move sooner, and will continue to push the coalition, our partners, our commanders on the ground to see what can be done to do that,” Mr. Cook said at the Pentagon.

His comments came as Iraqi forces resumed their advance on Fallujah, the last Islamic State-held city in Iraq’s volatile Anbar province, after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi initially halted the assault on the city to allow the roughly 50,000 Iraqi civilians to flee the besieged city.

Iraqi special forces reportedly began pushing into southern portions of the city on Monday as U.S. warplanes provided air support for the advancing units. As Iraqi forces moved closer to the city’s center, Islamic State fighters reportedly began shooting fleeing civilians looking to escape the fighting, according to The Associated Press.

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American-backed Iraqi troops are positioned along the eastern and southern outskirts Fallujah, 40 miles east of Baghdad, alongside Arab Sunni and Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen also stationed along the city’s southern edge.

Aside from concerns over civilian casualties, U.S. commanders had reservations on Mr. al-Abadi’s decision to launch the Fallujah offensive, just as Iraqi and coalition forces were driving toward Islamic State’s Iraqi capital of Mosul.

Col. Steve Warren, the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said Friday that the decision to take back Fallujah was motivated in part by political concerns faced by the al-Abadi government.

“You know, every city in Iraq’s got to get cleared, right? So we’re going to every city sooner or later. It’s just a question of sequencing, [and] the sequencing then becomes a political decision,” said Col. Warren.

“We understand that the leader of the country has to make decisions based on more than pure military necessity,” he said, noting the timing of the Fallujah offensive was diverting attention and resources from the Mosul offensive.

Mr. Cook also acknowledged Monday that the Fallujah operation did not necessarily fall in line with American objectives to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq, particularly the campaign to recapture Mosul.

But the security threat posed against Baghdad by Islamic State operatives launching deadly bombings and suicide attacks against the country’s capital left Mr. al-Abadi no choice but to act in Fallujah.

The Pentagon “completely understands the Iraqis’ strategy here and does not think it’s going to compromise our ability to go after ISIL in other parts of Iraq, particularly the push for Mosul,” Mr. Cook said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

President Obama in April ordered 200 U.S. troops into Iraq to back the Iraqi-led offensive to take back Mosul from Islamic State control. U.S. military officials have estimated that the fight for Mosul could require seven to 10 Iraqi army brigades, or 25,000 troops.

Across the border in Syria, forces of President Bashar Assad on Monday captured more ground in their push toward the northern city of Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s de facto capital, and are approaching a military base that fell to the Islamic State when the militants routed the army from the province two years ago, AP reported, citing state media and an activist group.

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