Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump again blasted the Obama administration for telegraphing Washington’s military plans to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State, saying Wednesday the approach allowed top leaders within the terror group slip away.
“If you think that going into Mosul after we let the world know we’re going in, and all of the people that we really wanted — the leaders — they’re all gone. If you think that was good, then you do … have bad judgment,” Mr. Trump said.
“What they wanted to do is they wanted to get the leaders of [the Islamic State] who they felt were in Mosul,” Mr. Trump said of the White House’s battle plans to wrest Iraqi’s second largest city from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.
“We announce we’re going after Mosul. I have been reading about going after Mosul now for about … three months. These people have all left,” he said, chiding Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton Wednesday night during their third and final presidential debate in Las Vegas.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly suggested the White House and Pentagon intentionally publicized its attack plans for Mosul for political gain in the weeks before Wednesday night’s debate.
During the second debate with Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump confounded conventional understanding of warfare by repeatedly suggesting that U.S. forces launch a “sneak attack” against the Islamic State in Mosul.
Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of U.S. and coalition land forces in Iraq, told reporters Wednesday that top Islamic State leaders have already fled Mosul ahead of the Iraqi and Kurdish offensive.
“We’ve got indications that leaders have left. A lot of foreign fighters we expect will stay because they’re not gonna be able to exfiltrate as easily as some of the local fighters or local leadership,” Gen. Volesky said during a briefing from U.S. and coalition headquarters in Baghdad.
Islamic State commanders at the unit level remain in Mosul to coordinate the city’s defenses, but “I can tell you is there are fewer fight — Daesh fighters today than there were yesterday and there’ll be fewer tomorrow than there are today,” the two-star general said.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Monday the beginning of the long-awaited Mosul operation on , shortly after U.S. and coalition aircraft had carried out preparatory airstrikes on targets inside the city, roughly 260 miles north of Baghdad.
After four days of fighting, Iraqi military and Kurdish paramilitary forces are ahead of schedule as they continue to press toward the city’s southern and western borders, according to the Pentagon.
While the outspoken GOP nominee is chalking up the exodus of top Islamic State leaders from Mosul as a loss for the U.S.-backed Mosul offensive, Gen. Volesky said their departure was a sign of success in what is promising to be a long and tough battle in Iraq.
“That exodus of leaders [has] started to break the confidence of the fighters that are remaining in Iraq. … We are telling Daesh that their leaders are abandoning them,” he said.