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Commander: Fight To Retake Mosul Progressing Faster Than Expected


Iraqi forces are leading the offensive to retake Mosul - leading it but U.S. advisers are nearby. They're at major headquarters on the battlefield as the attack continues on that city. And U.S. aircraft are overhead.

Major General Gary Volesky is leading U.S. forces in Iraq.

Do you assume that the worst is to come simply because a densely populated urban area is a very difficult place to fight?

GARY VOLESKY: I think that's part of it. ISIL's been there for two years. And so they've developed some pretty complex obstacles and done a lot of preparation. And so, you know, we expect the fight will be harder the closer we get into the inner parts of the city.

Encouragingly, though, the Iraqis have gone much faster than I'd - than we had anticipated. But we expect the fight will be - I expect it'll be a little more difficult the closer they get inside of Mosul.

INSKEEP: You said that Iraqi forces are moving faster than you anticipated?

VOLESKY: Yeah. And I'll give you an example. You know, there was a town called Shirqat. We thought that that would take probably a week to 10 days. And they cleared it in three. And so that's just an example of how fast they've gone. And, you know, we're enabling that with a lot of strikes, you know, both by the air and by ground. But, you know, they're the ones fighting the enemy at the tip of the spear, if you will.

INSKEEP: If the Iraqi forces are moving faster than expected, I'm trying to think what that might tell us about ISIS. One possibility that occurs to me is that they're pretty weak. Another is that they're strategically retreating to someplace they think they can better defend. Any idea which it is?

VOLESKY: Well, you know, I think both. I don't think you can classify the enemy right now as one big element that's got one overarching plan. I think that there are those pockets that are coming back and going to defend and have that plan. I think others are just moving to try to get out of the way and survive and preserve their force.

INSKEEP: Is there a risk that you could capture Mosul and really not reduce the level of violence in Iraq very much?

VOLESKY: We're seeing the enemy trying to transition to some insurgency and terrorism. And you've heard about the attacks in Baghdad, these high profile attacks...


VOLESKY: ...Vehicle-borne IEDS. So we fully expect they're going to attempt to, you know, evolve or devolve, if you will, into an insurgency and a real terrorist-based model.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure that people listening to us follow what we're saying. You're telling me you have signs that ISIS recognizes they may lose a lot of territory. And they're preparing to give up on trying to govern territory and transition to just blowing things up and causing disruptions.

VOLESKY: Well, I wouldn't say it that dramatically. I would say - you heard Baghdadi two months ago when he clearly, in my opinion, recognized they were losing - said that, you know, taking over villages and cities isn't going to be the end of ISIL. We'll go back out into the deserts where we've come from, like we did before.

And then we'll wait, bide our time and come back. So we expect that as they lose more terrain, they'll try to get into Baghdad and do more of these high-profile attacks to take people's attention off the losses that they're suffering and try to make the - you know, the ISIL brand still relevant.

INSKEEP: Could that deflection increase the risk of attacks on the United States itself?

VOLESKY: I mean, you've seen the incidents in Paris and Brussels and the United States. I mean, they've come out and said they want to take the fight outside of the borders and into borders like our country. So I would expect them to try to do something just to take attention off. But, you know, that remains to be seen.

INSKEEP: Major General Gary Volesky, thanks very much.

VOLESKY: Well, thank you.

INSKEEP: He commands the 101st Airborne Division. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.