Iraq-Kurdish force of 25,000 ‘to retake Mosul from IS’

A joint Iraqi-Kurdish military force of up to 25,000 fighters is being prepared to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State (IS), a US official says.The senior military official has said that the operation to recapture the northern city would probably take place in April or May.Iraq’s second largest city was currently being held by 1,000 to 2,000 IS militants, the official added. Mosul, which was home to more than a million people, fell to IS last June.The unnamed official told reporters that no decision had been made on whether a small group of US military advisers would be needed on the ground to direct air support.The official said all of the fighters in the force would have gone through training by the US.The official added that the operation would be needed by May,otherwise it would be compromised by the summer heat, although he added that it could be delayed if the Iraqi forces were not ready.The BBC’s Gary O’Donoghue in Washington says that telegraphing the timing of the attack is unusual, but the US insists that IS forces are now in retreat and Washington needs to show that its efforts to rebuild Iraqi military capacity are bearing fruit.Earlier in the week, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadiconfirmed that his forces were “planning an offensive on Mosul”.In an interview with BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson, Mr Abadi said that he hoped Mosul would be liberated in a few months’ time, with a minimum of casualties.He added that the actions of the US-led coalition against IS had improved in the past four or five weeks.”I think the air campaign has increased in its quality and intensity,” he said. Meanwhile, military chiefs from more than 20 countries gathered in Saudi Arabia on Thursday to discuss how to strengthen the Iraqi army against IS.An official told AFP news agency that a “firm plan” was being looked at to empower the Iraqi army.On Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that bombing raids by US-led coalition aircraft in Syria had played a key role in the recapture of 19 villages from IS in Raqqa province. Fighters from the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) and three other rebel groups have advanced steadily into IS-held territory since securing control of Kobane on 26 January.The YPG and its allies were also now in control of about 35kmof the motorway connecting the cities of Aleppo and Hassakeh, the UK-based Syrian Observatory added.Ain Issa and the motorway are 56km (35 miles) from the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the “caliphate” declared by IS in June after it captured large parts of Syria and Iraq.