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Here’s what the US-led coalition is doing to retake Mosul and Raqqa from the Islamic State

A coalition of countries is ramping up support for Iraqi and Kurdish forces ahead of an effort to liberate the Islamic State's two biggest cities. Is it going to be enough?
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
Defense Secretary Ash Carter. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The West will be contributing aircraft carriers to launch airstrikes, setting-up field hospitals to treat wounded Kurdish and Iraqi soldiers, and beefing up intelligence-gathering in advance of the effort to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State — just don't call it a ground war.

At a high-level meeting in Maryland on Wednesday, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter joined counterparts from a host of allied countries to put together a gameplan for the upcoming offensive, which promises to be either a huge blow against the Islamic State, or a frustrating setback for the American-backed forces.


In Washington, DC on Thursday, foreign ministers for those countries met to hammer out a plan to help stabilize Syria and Iraq, and improve information sharing and intelligence-collection both in IS-controlled territory, and in the Western countries that have been repeatedly hit by IS-directed and self-radicalized attackers.

After Mosul, the coalition's next target is the self-proclaimed caliphate's de facto capital: Raqqa.

"By isolating those two cities, we are effectively setting the stage to collapse ISIL's control," Carter said, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State.

But the question still remains: Will the coalition's support role — which aggressively avoids putting Western soldiers in the fight — do enough to help Iraq's severely weakened forces and their under-equipped Kurdish allies retake cities that IS has held for the better part of two years.

Carter announced on Wednesday that the US will send an additional 560 troops to provide support for the Iraqi Security Forces in the near future, with the option of more to come.

Related: Iraq Halts Assault Against Islamic State-Held Fallujah to 'Protect Civilians' Trapped Inside

Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan said his country would contribute a mobile field hospital with two operating rooms, along with 40 to 60 medical personnel. The Canadian defense ministry described that clinic as "role 2" — meaning it's somewhere between a basic clinic and a full-blown in-theater medical center. It's expected to be operational by October 1, and will stay open for a year.


Sajjan said that, in the best-case scenario, the liberation of Mosul happens quickly, but more coalition resources could ultimately be needed. "If there's ever a need for adjustment, we'll always take a look at it and make a decision accordingly," he said on Wednesday.

The United Kingdom also announced plans to send an additional 50 trainers to help prepare Iraqi forces for the upcoming battles, and revealed that some 1.4 million pounds worth of machine gun and sniper ammunition has been delivered to the Kurdish Peshmerga.

French President Francois Hollande, meanwhile, committed to re-deploy the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier late last week following the Nice attack, vowing, "If we intensify our airstrikes to hit Daesh, it's because this organization decided hit us here."

Carter said that the preparations for the battle have long been underway, and that the focus is increasingly on how to manage the liberated cities. To that end, Australia announced it will boost its training of Iraqi police and border guards, while a multi-party NATO mission is looking to build permanent bases that will offer training for IED removal, security, and medical services. Canada is also kicking in nearly $268 million to help stabilize Iraq. That's part of a larger $2 billion parcel offered up by various governments on Wednesday.

Ultimately, though, the anti-Islamic State coalition may be counting its chickens before they hatch.


"We have to keep breaking down the structural and bureaucratic barriers in order to share up to date information ever more quickly and widely."

The Peshmerga have long warned that they do not have the heavily artillery they need, and there are lingering concerns about the capacity of both the official Iraqi army and the local militias that have more recently joined the fight.

Even so, the forces, with support from coalition airstrikes, have made advances through the outskirts of Mosul, while essential supply routes to Raqqa have been severed in recent weeks.

But with that success, IS-linked attacks worldwide have spiked. Concern over future killings in the West was also the topic of some discussion at the meeting.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday that he would push allied states to expand information sharing on foreign fighters and radicalized individuals.

"We have to keep breaking down the structural and bureaucratic barriers in order to share up to date information ever more quickly and widely," Kerry said.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @Justin_Ling