US: Coalition preparing to retake Raqqa

PARIS (AP) — Even as it provides support for Iraq’s battle to retake Mosul, the U.S. led-coalition is laying the groundwork to push Islamic State militants out of the Syrian city of Raqqa, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday.

But a senior military official cautioned that conducting major operations in Raqqa and Mosul at the same time would stretch the coalition. He says the Raqqa campaign should wait until the Iraqis have made more significant progress in Mosul, where resistance from the militants has been described as heavy.

Mosul and Raqqa are the two main strongholds of the Islamic State group, acting as the capitals of their so-called caliphate and providing a source of revenue and territory. The Iraqi military, supported by U.S. and coalition air power and military advisers, began the push to retake Mosul on Oct. 16. The battle is expected to take months and follows successful campaigns this year to retake the main cities in Iraq’s western Anbar province.

The senior military official said that if the Mosul and Raqqa operations were done now, the biggest strains would be on fighter jets and reconnaissance aircraft. The coalition should be able to start the Raqqa operation in the near future, the official said, but declined to give a more precise timeline.

The official said that the U.S. does not anticipate the need for any additional U.S. forces in Syria right now. There currently are up to 300 U.S. special operations forces working with Syrian rebel forces.

The official was not authorized to discuss the Iraq or Syria operations publicly so the person spoke on condition of anonymity.

Carter, speaking at a news conference, said there has been no delay in the intended start of the Raqqa operation, and that there will be “overlap” with the Mosul fight. He said that has been the plan all along.

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