General: Months more fighting in Mosul

March 3, 2008 10:19:52 AM PST
It will take months more of fighting to drive al-Qaida insurgents from Iraq's northern city of Mosul, the third largest in the nation, a top U.S. commander in the region said Monday. Army Brig. Gen. Tony Thomas said coalition forces are "pursuing a disrupted but still dangerous enemy" in northern Iraq, the center of activity for an al-Qaida-led militants there by coalition operations elsewhere in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promised a "decisive battle" against the network there. The U.S. military has tried to temper expectations, warning it would not be a swift strike, but rather a grinding campaign that will require more firepower.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters from a military base outside Tikrit, Thomas, second in command in the north, said the effort would take months.

"This will be a steady, methodical coalition and Iraqi security forces campaign to eliminate the enemy from Mosul," Thomas said by video conference.

"While kinetic (military) operations will last for at least a few more months, we are already planning for a robust reconstruction effort to assure a sustainable security," he said.

Asked how much of Mosul is now under coalition control, Thomas said it was hard to quantify but that coalition forces "are slowly but surely eliminating (the militants') toehold in the city."

One-half to two-thirds of attacks in Iraq today are in and around Mosul, officials have said. U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a coalition spokesman in Baghdad, said Sunday that more than 140 al-Qaida insurgents have been killed or captured in Mosul since the end of January.

Thomas declined to say how many fighters are believed in the area, but he said some 10 to 15 percent of fighters among the Sunni insurgents are foreigners.