Raqqa Becomes Top Priority After Mosul is Liberated

Iraqi Federal Police Emergency Response Division soldiers save lives in the last days of the fight to remove ISIS from Mosul, Iraq. Screenshot of USAF video by TSgt. Stephen Ocenosak.

Now that ISIS has fallen in Mosul, Iraq, the US-led coalition’s top priority is to liberate the group’s self-proclaimed capital in Syria.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said Tuesday that Iraqi Security Forces were victorious in liberating Mosul as part of the “most extended, brutal combat I’ve ever experienced.” Defeating ISIS in Mosul took away the group’s foothold in Iraq and its largest population center. There are still pockets of resistance left to clear, and the victory “does not eliminate ISIS,” noted Townsend.

US-backed forces have encircled ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, where the situation for that group is “surrender, or be killed,” Townsend said. There is already a robust effort by the US-led coalition focused on Raqqa, but now that the major Mosul effort is wrapping up, Raqqa is going to “become more of a priority.”

This could include a “greater level of resourcing” of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and strike aircraft.

US advisers will likely remain in Mosul to hold the city and help clear remnants of ISIS fighters. Coalition officials have estimated that there could be up to a “couple hundred” fighters remaining, who have reportedly attempted to negotiate a surrender. In response, Iraqi officials have only offered “unconditional surrender,” Townsend said.

The coalition could not confirm or deny new reports that ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has been killed. There have been several other claims in the past that Baghdadi had been killed, but there has been no confirmation, he said.

“I hope he’s deader than a doornail,” Townsend said. “If not, as soon as we find out where he is, he will be.”