- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2016

American-backed Iraqi and Kurdish forces advancing on the Islamic State-held city of Mosul could reach the heart of Iraq’s second-largest city in a matter of weeks, U.S officials said Tuesday.

The optimistic assessment comes after the second day of the long-awaited operation to wrest Mosul from the terror group, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces on Tuesday reportedly took control of over a dozen villages along Mosul’s eastern borders, while Iraqi troops made similar gains as they drove their way north into the city.

American fighters and bombers launched six airstrikes around Mosul and the American military outpost in al Qayara, 40 miles south of Mosul, taking out several Islamic State fighting positions, convoys and heavy weapons, according to a Pentagon statement.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters Monday that Iraqi and Peshmerga units were moving “ahead of schedule” as the offensive’s first day came to a close.

Roughly 100 U.S. special operations troops have been deployed alongside Iraqi counterterrorism and Peshmerga units spearheading the Mosul assault.

Those deployments, roughly the size of a U.S. Army Operational Detachment-Alpha, or “A-Team,” of between 12 to 16 troops have been helping coordinate airstrikes and heavy artillery strikes as those units advance deeper into Islamic State-controlled territory, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

While those American troops are not fighting alongside their Iraqi and Kurdish counterparts along the Mosul front lines, U.S. officials said those troops are stationed alongside unit commanders at the battalion level, and move forward with those commanders as the offensive progresses.

American commanders are planning to embed U.S. military advisers alongside regular Iraqi army units as the operation unfolds, but that order has yet to be issued, U.S. officials said.

But U.S. officials Tuesday warned the roughly 3,000 to 5,000 Islamic State fighters left in the city were among the group’s most tenacious, setting the stage for an increasingly brutal fight as coalition forces move closer to the city’s center.

U.S. officials assess the majority of Islamic State defections from Mosul ahead of the offensive were complete and the remaining commanders and fighters in Mosul would likely dig in to defend the city, possibly deploying chemical weapons as part of their defense plans.

Use of chemical agents, particularly mustard gas, will likely come in the final stages of the offensive once Iraqi and Kurdish forces close in on the city center, the officials said.

Islamic State does possess a “very rudimentary capability to deliver” chemical weapons onto the battlefield, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told Congress in September.

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