Defense secretary visits Iraq to oversee Mosul attack

Ash Carter visited with Kurdish leaders and US commanders as coalition forces advanced on the Islamic State redoubt in Mosul.

Lolita Baldor/AP
Defense secretary Ash Carter arrived in Iraq on Saturday to visit with US and allied troops fighting the Islamic State.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited Irbil on Sunday for a closer assessment of the fight against the Islamic State group in northern Iraq and to hear from Kurdish leaders whose forces launched a new offensive in the operation to wrest Mosul from the militants.

Carter met with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, as well as U.S. service members, who are not far from the battle. The Pentagon chief said Barzani reported some good news about peshmerga gains against IS in Bashiqa, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) northeast of Mosul.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters that the information he's gathered suggests Barzani was correct and that there has been "considerable success" in the town. Townsend said he didn't know whether any fighting was still going on in the town center and whether every house had been cleared, but he largely confirmed the peshmerga's success and said the Kurdish forces merit recognition for their success.

Carter said he wants to see military operations to isolate IS fighters in Raqqa, Syria, to begin "as soon as possible." He said there will be simultaneous operations in Mosul and Raqqa, and that the United States would coordinate in Raqqa with its partners. The U.S. has been working with Syrian rebel fighters.

Townsend said the U.S.-led coalition has had success killing IS leaders, which helps with the Raqqa fight.

During the meeting with Barzani, Carter praised the efforts of the Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, and acknowledged their battle losses.

"They fight extremely well. But because they're fighting hard, they suffer ... casualties," said Carter, who spent Saturday in Baghdad getting updates from his military leadership and meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The U.S. is prepared to provide additional support for the fight if requested by Iraq and U.S. commanders, Carter said in the capital.

Peshmerga Brig. Gen. Halgord Hekmet, a spokesman for the Kurdish forces, told reporters that 25 of their troops have been killed since the battle to retake Mosul began and a "large number" had been wounded. Speaking through an interpreter, he said the peshmerga have had good coalition air support, but could use more military resources, especially armored vehicles.

He said that most of the fallen peshmerga were riding in regular cars and were more vulnerable. A second priority, he said, would be more devices to help detect roadside bombs.

The peshmerga are advancing toward Mosul from the north in long columns of armored vehicles and other trucks. More than 100 U.S. special operations forces are embedded with the Kurds and Iraqi military commandos. Irbil is about 55 miles (90 kilometers) southeast of Mosul.

Mosul is a Sunni majority town, and many worry about the involvement of government-sanctioned Shiite fighters. But they also are suspicious about the Kurds, who have ambitions to expand their self-rule area into parts of Ninevah province, where Mosul is located — although not to the city itself.

U.S. military officials say the peshmerga will stop their advance about 20 miles (30 kilometers) outside of Mosul and hold that territory to ensure the militants don't regroup. Shiite militias have said they will not enter the city itself.

Carter fueled debate in Iraq on Friday when he met with Turkish leaders and suggested their country should play a role in the Mosul battle. On Saturday, al-Abadi balked at that idea, saying his country's own forces will oust IS from the city.

Some 500 Turkish troops at a base north of Mosul have been training Sunni and Kurdish fighters since December. The Iraqi government says the troops are there without permission and has called on them to withdraw. Turkey has refused and insists it will play a role in liberating the city.

IS captured Mosul and the surrounding area during a lightning advance across northern Iraq in the summer of 2014.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Defense secretary visits Iraq to oversee Mosul attack
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today