Anti-ISIL coalition’s defense chiefs meet

Anti-ISIL coalition’s defense chiefs meet

Anti-ISIL coalition’s defense chiefs meet

The ministers of the 13 nations inside the US-led anti-ISIL coalition leave the podium after having their photo taken following a meeting in Paris Oct. 25. / REUTERS Photo

As Iraqi forces were inching closer to Mosul, the Western defense chiefs from the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) met in Paris to review the offensive on the jihadist bastion.

The defense ministers of the United States, Germany, the U.K., Italy, Norway, Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and France met in Paris on Oct. 25, which come a week after Iraqi forces backed by Kurdish peshmerga fighters launched a major operation to retake Iraq’s second-biggest city.

French President Francois Hollande urged the U.S.-led coalition to prepare for the aftermath of the city’s fall, including returning fighters.  

“The recapture is not an end in itself. We must already anticipate the consequences of the fall of Mosul,” he said at the meeting, AFP reported.

“What is at stake is the political future of the city, the region and Iraq,” Hollande said, calling for “all ethnic and religious groups” to have a say in the future running of the predominantly Sunni city.

He also appealed for measures to shield civilians trapped in Mosul by the fighting and for “vigilance” faced with the prospect of return foreign jihadists returning home from the Iraqi battlefield.

Forces from the Iraqi elite counter-terrorism service (CTS) retook areas close to the eastern outskirts of Mosul.

“On our front, we have advanced to within five or six kilometer of Mosul,” their commander, General Abdelghani al-Assadi, told AFP.

“We must now coordinate with forces on other fronts to launch a coordinated” attack on Mosul, he said, speaking from the Christian town of Bartalla.

Kurdish peshmerga forces are making gains on the northeastern front but federal forces advancing from the south have some way to go before reaching the outskirts of Mosul.

Meanwhile, thousands of men from the Hashed al-Shaabi, a paramilitary umbrella group dominated by Tehran-backed Shiite militias, were preparing for a push to the west. The Hashed leadership has ordered “us to assume the mission of liberating the Tal Afar district,” Jawwad al-Tulaibawi, spokesman for the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, said.

Iraqi Kurds and Sunni Arab politicians have opposed its participation, as has Turkey, whose military presence east of Mosul caused a rift between Ankara and Baghdad. 

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels ahead of the meetings of NATO Defense Ministers, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pledged on Oct. 25 that the NATO would expand its support into Iraq in the coming months. 

“The best way to do that is to train local forces, to build local capacity. We will train and step up our efforts to help up Iraqi forces,” he said, adding they had already trained hundreds of Iraqi officers in Jordan – in areas including military medicine and defusing improvised explosive devices.

“Because when our neighbors are more stable, we are more secure,” he said.      

Meanwhile, ISIL conducted four simultaneous suicide bomb attacks in Iraq’s Kirkuk on Oct. 24, state-run Anadolu Agency reported, on the day the province’s governor said the city was cleared of ISIL militants after a an attack on Oct. 21 and clashes for another three days. 

Humanitarian workers and residents told Reuters on Oct. 25 that hundreds of displaced Sunni Arab families have had to leave Kirkuk after the ISIL attack on the Kurdish-controlled city which authorities suspect was helped by Sunni sleeper cells. 

The Sunni families, who had been sheltering in Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk province from the conflict with ISIL, began moving out after authorities told them on Oct. 23 to leave or face being forcibly expelled, the sources said. 

Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes battled ISIL militants for a third day on Oct. 25 in a remote western town, Rutba, hundreds of kilometers to the south of the operation in Mosul.

The clashes underway in Rutba, in Iraq’s western Anbar province, are apparently part of the extremist group’s tactics to divert attention - as well as Iraqi and coalition resources - from the battle to retake Mosul.

“Fighting is ongoing in Rutba, which is still contested,” said Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, The Associated Press reported.

“The coalition continues conducting strikes to support the Iraqi security forces’ response efforts, including one against a Daesh [ISIL] convoy that was attempting to flee the area,” he added.