US ‘laying groundwork’ for Raqqa assault before Mosul capture

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Military strategies in the fight for Mosul
01:39 - Source: CNN

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US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Mosul fight will not delay Raqqa offensive

Carter and the French Defense Minister cited progress in the Mosul campaign

Washington CNN  — 

Even as Iraqi troops are locked in a fierce battle with ISIS for control of Mosul, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Tuesday that efforts to capture the terror group’s Syrian stronghold, the city of Raqqa, will not be put on hold.

“There is no delay,” Carter said when asked if the Mosul fight might slow the offensive on Raqqa.

Carter, speaking in Paris alongside his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, added that the effort to seize Raqqa from ISIS “is proceeding on plan even as Mosul is proceeding on plan.”

“There will be overlap, and that is part of our plan,” Carter said, adding, “We have already begun laying groundwork to commence the isolation of Raqqa.”

Most analysts believe that Raqqa will present a different set of challenges from the Mosul campaign because of the absence of local troops able to carry out the assault.

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Kurdish-led forces launch attack near Raqqa
06:42 - Source: CNN

Carter stressed the need for local forces to take the lead, saying, “We want a victory that sticks everywhere, so it’s always local forces.”

But no such indigenous allied force currently exists near Raqqa, with the main US ally in the area, the Syrian Democratic Force, consisting primarily of ethnically Kurdish troops. Raqqa is inhabited largely by Sunni Arabs.

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The secretary of defense also ruled out Russia’s participation in the fight for Raqqa, saying that Moscow “is not a participant in our Raqqa plan.”

Carter and Le Drian also expressed optimism regarding the fight for Mosul even as Pentagon officials have described local forces as facing “heavy resistance” as they strive to recapture Iraq’s second-biggest city.

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Video shows U.S. special forces near Raqqa
02:31 - Source: CNN

“I certainly am encouraged by the results of our campaign so far in that it has been proceeding as planned,” Carter said. “The Iraqis are fighting with skill, and commitment, and courage enabled by the coalition.”

Le Drian also struck an optimistic tone describing the Mosul campaign and the coalition’s role in helping local forces with airstrikes, artillery and training.

“At this stage, things are going according to plan. It will be a difficult battle of course because ISIL has much to lose, but we are determined to support our allies who are fighting on the ground, and we’d like to commend their courage, their devotion and sacrifice,” Le Drian said, using an alternative acronym for the terror group.

The French defense minister highlighted the symbolism involved in Mosul’s re-capture.

“The loss of Mosul down the road will be a crushing defeat for ISIL, it will be a major symbolic loss, it is from this town that its chief sought to challenge the civilized world,” Le Drian said, alluding to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi’s proclamation of a self-declared caliphate in Mosul back in 2014.

Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga troops, backed by coalition airstrikes and US special operations forces, have seized dozens of towns and hundreds of square miles from ISIS as part of the latest push toward Mosul, but US officials have said the fight is likely to intensify as allied forces approach the more densely populated parts of the city, where ISIS has been digging in.