The United States and Iraq are drawing up a campaign plan for offensive operations by Iraqi ground forces to gradually reclaim towns and cities that have been occupied by Isis, according to a senior US official.
The plan, described as methodical and time-consuming, will not begin in earnest for several months and is designed to ensure that Iraqi forces do not over-extend themselves before they are capable of taking and holding territory controlled by the militants.
It may also include American advisers in the field with the Iraqis, should that be recommended by American military commanders, said the official, who updated reporters on administration strategy on the condition of anonymity. The advisers, the official said, would not participate in combat. President Barack Obama has said repeatedly that no US ground forces would be deployed to Iraq.
With few exceptions, the Iraqi army has concentrated largely on defence and efforts to prevent Isis from claiming more territory since early June when the militant group took over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and began moving south. Despite some government gains, aided since early August by US air strikes, the militants control about one-third of Iraq, stretching from near Baghdad to the northwest, and across western Anbar province to the Syrian border.
In August, Mr Obama also authorised air strikes against Isis targets in western and northern Syria. Over the past few weeks, world attention has focused on the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border, where Isis forces have threatened to overrun besieged Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Following a US military airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to the Syrian Kurds on Sunday, Iraqi Kurdish fighters, called the peshmerga, are expected to come to their assistance.
The administration official said that the Syrian Kurds, while politically at odds with their Iraqi brethren, have agreed to accept an influx of peshmerga fighters. Details of the size and composition of the Iraqi Kurdish force, which is expected to cross into Kobani from Turkey, are to be finalised in the next few days.
But the US administration has said repeatedly that Iraq remains its main concern. Mr Obama said last month that in addition to the air strikes, his strategy includes trainers and advisers for the Iraqi military, which largely fled from advancing Isis forces in Mosul, and the installation of a more inclusive Iraqi government under which the country’s principal Muslim sects could unite.
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