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General: Raqqa will be harder

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Associated Press


Iraq’s battle to reclaim Mosul from the Islamic State group is progressing despite “stiff” resistance from resilient and creative fighters, but a coming offensive to oust them from their main Syria stronghold at Raqqa poses tougher political challenges and could take longer, the U.S. commander of anti-IS coalition forces said Wednesday.

Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend also said American intelligence has detected indistinct signs of Islamic State plotting against the West from Raqqa, adding urgency to coalition plans to encircle and eventually assault the city.

“We know they’re up to something, and it’s an external plot,” the general told reporters at the Pentagon, speaking from his headquarters in Baghdad. “We don’t know exactly where” they intend to strike, he added. “We don’t know exactly when.”

“We know this plot-and-planning is emanating from Raqqa. We think we’ve got to get to Raqqa pretty soon.” He declined to be more precise about a timeline but said there is “a sense of urgency” due to the uncertainty of the threat.

As the Islamic State group’s two main hubs, Mosul and Raqqa have long loomed as potentially decisive battles. The group has lost considerable territory elsewhere in both Iraq and Syria over the past year, and the U.S. and its coalition partners see collapsing their last major strongholds as a key to extinguishing extremist claims to a caliphate.