clear
Wednesday July 26th, 2017 12:46AM

Amid Raqqa, Mosul fights, US prepares for IS endgame effort

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is looking ahead toward a decisive battleground in its bid to destroy the Islamic State group, even as U.S.-backed local forces must still finish the fight for the extremists' two main strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

The roughly 100-mile stretch of IS-controlled territory straddling the Iraq-Syria border could represent the start of an endgame for defeating a group that had gobbled up large swaths of territory in the heart of the Middle East, at one point even threatening Baghdad.

Three years into America's campaign, President Donald Trump is studying ways to accelerate the pace. He hasn't yet announced results of a strategy review he ordered from the Pentagon in late January, but officials are already plotting how to wrest the final territories from IS' control.

"ISIS will go down fighting, of course, and do enormous amounts of harm in its death throes," Hal Brands and Peter Feaver, two U.S. defense analysts, wrote in a recent assessment of how the extremist group will be defeated.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, are to provide an update on the campaign at a Pentagon news conference Friday. In Europe last week for talks with coalition partners, Mattis said the extremists have lost "well over" half their territory in Iraq and Syria since 2014.

Much fighting remains to fully expel IS from Mosul in northern Iraq, and the battle for the extremists' self-declared capital of Raqqa, Syria, has barely begun.

But the follow-on battle lines are already clear. They will be drawn from the Syrian city of Deir el-Zour, which has come under increasing U.S. aerial bombardment, to the western Iraqi city of al-Qaim. The Pentagon refers to this area as the Middle Euphrates River Valley. Islamic State leaders and operatives have gravitated there in apparent anticipation of losing Mosul and Raqqa.

The coalition bombed an IS fighting unit and an IS vehicle near Deir el-Zour on Thursday. Central Command on Friday also mentioned five airstrikes targeting IS oil infrastructure near Abu Kamal, the Syrian city across the border from Iraq's al-Qaim.

Post-Mosul, post-Raqqa, the intent will be to militarily squeeze this stretch of territory from each end, according to U.S. officials.

American forces would support a group of Syrian Arab and Kurdish fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces driving southeast along the Euphrates from Raqqa toward Deir el-Zour, said the officials, who weren't authorized to speak publicly on the military details and demanded anonymity. At the same time, Iraqi government forces, also supported by U.S. advisers and airpower, would advance toward al-Qaim.

And a separate U.S.-backed group of Syrian rebels would push up from the south to block IS escape routes, the U.S. officials said.

Deir el-Zour presents an especially tricky challenge because the Syrian military has a base there and the U.S. has avoided tangling with President Bashar Assad's forces other than an April 7 cruise missile strike.

The complexities of the campaign in Syria were illustrated by an unusual U.S. airstrike Thursday against what the Pentagon described as Syrian pro-Assad forces near the Tanf military camp close to the Jordanian border. U.S. special operations forces have been working there with a Syrian opposition group in operations against IS.

A U.S. military statement said Thursday's strike occurred after Russia tried unsuccessfully to dissuade pro-Assad forces from advancing toward Tanf. But on Friday, Russia, an Assad ally, denounced the U.S. airstrike.

"Whatever the reason for the U.S. strike was, it was illegitimate and marked another flagrant violation of Syria's sovereignty," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in Cyprus.

The overall outlook is further clouded by the Syrian government's announcement this month of a new military push aimed at reasserting its authority in east, including in Deir el-Zour and the remote desert area near Syria's borders with Jordan and Iraq. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said last week "the main goal" is to reach Deir el-Zour, an oil-producing region that was largely captured by IS during its great expansion of territory three years ago.

While the Middle Euphrates River Valley corridor may be the next key battleground, U.S. officials believe it will not be the last. There are other pockets of extremist control in Iraq, including Hawija, west of Kirkuk. The situation is murkier in Syria given the mix of rebel groups involved, some of which occasionally ally with al-Qaida or IS. The U.S. also must contend in the country with uncoordinated fighting forces from Turkey, Russia and Iran-backed militia such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Military victory against IS isn't by itself sufficient. Keeping IS or a follow-on extremist group out of liberated areas will likely depend on establishing stable governance and relieving humanitarian crises that have accumulated over years of war in both Syria and Iraq.

"Once we get that threat subdued, then the real work begins," Mattis said this month in Copenhagen. Government services and normalcy must be restored, he said, "otherwise you simply breed the next problem."

In their assessment for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank, defense analysts Brands and Feaver said defeating IS militarily won't yield a decisive victory in the broader fight against Islamic extremism.

"So long as the root causes of jihadist ideology persist throughout much of the greater Middle East and beyond, so too will the threat itself," they wrote.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington
© Copyright 2017 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Iran votes in first presidential election since nuclear deal
Iranians vote in the country's first presidential election since the nuclear deal with world powers, as incumbent Hassan Rouhani faces a hard-line opponent and two other challengers
4:06AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Macron's first non-Europe trip focuses on fighting extremism
Macron's first non-Europe trip focuses on fighting extremism; visiting French troops in Mali
4:00AM ( 18 minutes ago )
Worldwide effort set to keep Trump happy on 1st trip abroad
As President Donald Trump heads off on his first foreign trip, a worldwide effort is under way to accommodate America's homebody president on his first trip abroad since taking office
3:54AM ( 24 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Trump heads overseas, turmoil in his wake
President Donald Trump claims that the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russian election meddling and his own campaign's ties amounts to the 'greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history'
3:41AM ( 36 minutes ago )
Trump says he's 'very close' to naming a new FBI director
President Donald Trump says he is "very close" to naming a new FBI director.
3:28AM ( 50 minutes ago )
AP Explains: Voting, governance and clerical power in Iran
AP Explains: How do presidential power and elections work under a supreme leader in Iran's Islamic Republic
3:23AM ( 55 minutes ago )
AP National News
Amid cancer recurrence, Holly Rowe gets extension at ESPN
Holly Rowe says her cancer has recurred, just as she's agreed to a multiyear contract extension with ESPN
2:03AM ( 2 hours ago )
Basquiat painting fetches record $110.5M at New York auction
An artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat (zhahn mee-SHEHL' BAH'-skee-aht) sold for a record $110.5 million at auction in New York
1:56AM ( 2 hours ago )
Brazil's president may lead a 'walking dead administration'
Brazilian President Michel Temer is defiantly promising to remain in power despite a damaging new corruption allegation, but Latin America's largest nation could very well be rudderless as long as he stays leading a "walking dead administration."
12:04AM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Car mows down Times Square pedestrians for blocks, killing 1
Law enforcement officials say a man who steered his car onto a sidewalk and mowed down pedestrians was hearing voices and thought he was going to die
11:08PM ( 5 hours ago )
Chaffetz to resign, raising doubts about Trump probe
U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee, says he will resign from Congress next month
8:33PM ( 7 hours ago )
Senate chairman: Flynn has not responded to subpoena
The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee says ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn hasn't responded to a subpoena from the panel in its probe of Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election
8:08PM ( 8 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Trump says he's 'very close' to naming an FBI director
President Donald Trump says he is "very close" to naming a new FBI director.
3:30AM ( 48 minutes ago )
Trump's first foreign trip has high stakes at each stop
President Donald Trump is setting out on his first international trip, a five-stop journey across the Middle East and Europe
3:23AM ( 55 minutes ago )
To Trump supporters, the real story is about leaks, sabotage
President Donald Trump and his supporters are trying to shift the focus from the seemingly never-ending blitz of bad news rocking the White House
3:20AM ( 58 minutes ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Iran votes in first presidential election since nuclear deal
Iranians vote in the country's first presidential election since the nuclear deal with world powers, as incumbent Hassan Rouhani faces a hard-line opponent and two other challengers
4:06AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Macron's first non-Europe trip focuses on fighting extremism
Macron's first non-Europe trip focuses on fighting extremism; visiting French troops in Mali
4:00AM ( 18 minutes ago )
Worldwide effort set to keep Trump happy on 1st trip abroad
As President Donald Trump heads off on his first foreign trip, a worldwide effort is under way to accommodate America's homebody president on his first trip abroad since taking office
3:54AM ( 24 minutes ago )
Draft a sign of progress on South China Sea code of conduct
Analysts say a framework agreement between China and ASEAN menbers on a code of conduct in the South China Sea marks a potentially significant step toward cooling tensions in the strategic waterway
3:52AM ( 25 minutes ago )
Trump heads overseas, turmoil in his wake
President Donald Trump claims that the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russian election meddling and his own campaign's ties amounts to the 'greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history'
3:41AM ( 36 minutes ago )