FEB. 19, 2015
Iraqi Assault to Retake Mosul From Islamic State Is Planned for Spring
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
WASHINGTON -- The assault to retake Mosul, Iraq, from the Islamic State will require 20,000 to 25,000 Iraqi and Kurdish troops and is expected to begin in April or May, an official from the United States Central Command told reporters on Thursday.
The briefing, which was held on the final day of the White House counterterrorism conference, was intended to rebut criticism that the Islamic State had the upper hand and that Iraqi efforts to evict the militants from Mosul were lagging.
It is unusual for American officials to discuss the details and timing of a military operation before it occurs. But the official said his intent was to describe the Iraqis' "level of commitment" in regaining control of Mosul, which he said was held by as many as 2,000 fighters from the Islamic State.
"There are a lot of pieces that have to come together, and we want to make sure the conditions are right," the official said. "But this is their plan. They are bought into it. They are moving forward."
Still, the official, who could not be identified under the command's protocol for briefing reporters, cautioned that the timetable for mounting the offensive to retake Mosul could change if more time was needed to prepare the Iraqi forces for the attack.
He emphasized that the Obama administration had yet to decide if American advisers would be needed to call in airstrikes or to mentor Iraqi forces during the battle for Mosul.
The official, providing new details about the Iraqi effort, said that the main Iraqi attack force would consist of five brigades, each of which would number about 2,000 troops.
The Iraqis will keep three smaller brigades in reserve. Three brigades of Kurdish pesh merga fighters will also join the fight to contain the Islamic State militants from the north and maneuver to cut off approaches to the city from the west.
Once Mosul is retaken, it is to be controlled by former Iraqi police officers from Mosul and tribal fighters, according to the plan. A brigade of Iraqi counterterrorism forces, trained by United States Special Operations forces, will also be involved.
Masrour Barzani, the chief of intelligence for the Kurdish region of Iraq, recently said that a greater effort was needed to prepare the battle and to secure the backing of Sunnis and tribal fighters  in and around Mosul.
But the United States official insisted at the briefing that the Iraqi government was following a carefully prepared plan. The five brigades that are to form the main assault force in Mosul, for example, are to be drawn from Iraq's more experienced units on duty in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.
Those brigades will undergo a round of training by United States Marines and Army Special Forces, and their equipment will be updated before they move toward Mosul. The United States and its partners are continuing airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
"Militarily, ISIL is in decline," said the official, using another name for the Islamic State. "Our effects are outpacing its ability to regenerate."
The official acknowledged that Iranian personnel were in Iraq.
"We don't deny that there is Iranian influence and there is Iranian activity and a force presence inside of Iraq," he said. "It is largely advisers."