Groundwork being laid for isolation of IS-held Raqqa: US
The US-led coalition is "laying the groundwork" for the "isolation" of Raqqa, the Islamic State group stronghold in Syria, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said on Tuesday.
"We have already begun laying the groundwork for our partners to commence the isolation of Raqqa," Carter said after meeting coalition defence ministers in Paris to discuss the aftermath of the planned capture of Mosul from IS in Iraq.
"Today we resolved to follow through with that same sense of urgency and focus on enveloping and collapsing ISIL's control of Raqqa," he added, using another acronym for IS.
Carter said the coalition would rely on "capable and motivated local forces that we identify and then enable" to wrest the city from the Sunni extremists.
"That is our general strategic approach. We are seeking a lasting defeat of ISIL and a lasting defeat can't be achieved by outside.
"It can only be achieved by those who live there," he said, adding: "These will be Syrians enabled by us."
Carter was among a dozen ministers from coalition members attending the talks, which come a week after Iraqi forces backed by Kurdish fighters launched a major operation to retake Mosul, Iraq's second-biggest city.
Addressing the gathering French President Francois Hollande reiterated warnings about IS fighters in Mosul fleeing across the border to Raqqa.
He also urged vigilance over the risk of foreign extremists returning home from the battlefield.
The 13 countries at the Paris meeting represent the largest military contributors to the anti-IS campaign. This is the fifth time the coalition has met, and another session is scheduled for later this year.
'Stretching the coalition'
In response to Carter's announcement, a senior military official cautioned that conducting major operations in Raqqa and Mosul at the same time would stretch the coalition, adding that 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.
|[Click to enlarge]|
The senior military official told The Associated Press 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, he official said, but declined to give a more precise timeline.
The official added that the US did not anticipate the need for any additional US forces in Syria right now. There are currently up to 300 US special operations forces working with Syrian rebel forces.
Mosul and Raqqa are IS's two main strongholds, acting as the capitals of their so-called caliphate and providing a source of revenue and territory.
Backed by US and coalition air power and military advisers, as well as Kurdish Peshmerga forces and tribal militias, the Iraqi army began the push to retake Mosul on 16 October.The battle is expected to take months and follows successful campaigns this year to retake the main cities in Iraq's western Anbar province.