Britain’s most senior commander in Iraq and Syria told politicians and diplomats to show patience in the battle to remove Islamic State from Mosul, despite Donald Trump’s pre-election demand that bombing against the terror group should be intensified.
Maj-Gen Rupert Jones said daily attacks on Isis had led to “an extraordinary amount of progress” in the last year, but warned that the jihadi group was defending the city vigorously and that it was necessary for the Iraqi security forces (ISF) to demonstrate restraint.
The deputy commander of the US-led international coalition in the region added: “What we have all got to then have is patience and what you want is the ISF to clear their way through the city in a deliberate manner.
They could hard charge their way through the city and there would be an awful lot of civilian casualties but it has been really impressive to watch [Iraqi prime minister Haider al-] Abadi downwards really care about civilian casualties. Therefore, they are taking a deliberate manner and trying to minimise their own casualties.”
The remarks contrasts with Trump’s seeming impatience with Barack Obama’s anti-Isis strategy. Trump has pledged that Isis will disappear very quickly after he becomes president, and though he declined to disclose his plan for how that would be achieved, said he intended to hit the militants harder, including bombing “the shit out of ’em”, referring to Isis-controlled oil fields.
Last year Trump said: “I know more Isis than the generals do, believe me. I would bomb the shit out of them. I would just bomb those suckers. And, that’s right, I’d blow up the pipes. I’d blow up the refineries. I’d blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left.”
Jones declined to offer a timetable for the fall of Mosul, beyond saying it was on schedule and that while Isis was defending the city fiercely, he expected the group to have been cleared from all Iraq’s towns and cities by the second half of next year.
Asked about Trump’s criticism that Obama was not being firm enough on Isis, the general said: “I am not going to comment on some of the Trump campaign narrative. What I would say to you is that we are hitting Daesh [another name for Isis] very, very hard. I have just described to you how much progress has been made in the last year. An extraordinary amount of progress.
“And that has been built in part on us hitting Daesh day in, day out. By the time the ISF stepped off into Mosul, we had been shaping and degrading that enemy day in, day out for months.”
Jones is the youngest general in the British army and son of Lt Col H Jones, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross after being killed in the Falklands in 1982.
Jones also said a huge intelligence trove was expected from the fall of Mosul and confirmed that documents seized from Manbij in northern Syria in August had revealed plots against targets in Europe and elsewhere around the world.
A unit was set up in Kuwait to process all the hard drives, USB sticks and other data collected from the Manbij that reportedly includes details of financing, propagandists and terror plots. It is understood that while plots were identified throughout Europe, including France, there were none specifically targeted against the UK.
Jones, who is based in the Kuwaiti headquarters of Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign against Isis in Iraq and Syria, said the jihadi group was struggling, having lost 56% of the territory it once held in Iraq and 28% in Syria.
But he pointed out that Isis was behaving as barbarically in Iraq’s second city as it had ever done, saying it was “being ruthlessly evil on the streets of Mosul as we sit here in the sunshine: beheadings, throwing people in oil pits”.
There have been repeated allegations of atrocities by the Popular Mobilisation Forces militia that form part of the ISF taking back territory from Isis. But British officers said the militias have been barred from entering Mosul was the city was recaptured and that they would be barred from the next objective, Tal Afar.
After Mosul falls, Jones said, the next big thing would be a push on Tal Afar, which has effectively been isolated, and to push up the Euphrates river valley, led by the Iraqi army’s seventh division based at the al-Asad base.