WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraq is not planning for U.S. military advisors to accompany Iraqi forces inside the city of Mosul, at least for now, a U.S. military spokesman said on Thursday, potentially limiting America’s role in the offensive against Islamic State.
U.S. troops have been accompanying and advising Iraqi forces in fighting on the outskirts of Mosul since Baghdad launched its assault toward the city two weeks ago, keeping some distance behind the fast-shifting front lines of contact.
In a sign of the risks, one of those U.S. advisors was killed on Oct. 20 by a roadside bomb.
The campaign is expected to become even more complicated as the fighting moves squarely into Mosul, particularly given the risk to the estimated 1.5 million civilians still in the city.
Air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition are going to need to be carefully waged to avoid civilian deaths.
Still, Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, told Pentagon reporters that Iraq’s plan did not call for U.S. advisors or those from the coalition inside the city itself.
“There is no plan for coalition forces to go in there. And the Iraqis have said, it’s just gonna be their forces,” Dorrian said, when asked if U.S. advisors would accompany Iraqi troops.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the definition of Mosul itself might not, for example, include some of the suburbs of the city.
Dorrian also acknowledged that Iraq’s plans could change.
“I have been doing public affairs for a very long time. And I don’t like to use the word never,” he said.
The fall of Mosul would signal a pivotal defeat for the ultra-hardline Sunni jihadists in Iraq but could also lead to land grabs and sectarian bloodletting.
Islamic State is also expected to morph into a more classic insurgency once it loses its final pockets of territory in Iraq.
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi told his followers on Thursday there could be no retreat in a “total war” against the forces arrayed against them, as advancing soldiers battled into their northern Iraqi stronghold.
Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Kokjali, Iraq and Dominic Evans in Baghdad; Editing by James Dalgleish