ERBIL, Iraq -- U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter met with Iraq’s prime minister in Baghdad on Saturday and got an update on the battle for Mosul.
Iraqi forces -- backed by the U.S. military -- are trying to retake the city from ISIS. Hundreds near Mosul have been treated for breathing problems after ISIS set fire to a sulfur plant Thursday.
Iraq’s elite special forces are closing in on Mosul from the east, slowly retaking Christian towns and villages that were seized by ISIS two years ago.
In the town of Bartella -- 10 miles from Mosul and long-deserted by its residents -- ISIS tried to hold them off with at least eight suicide car bombs. Vehicles laden with explosives are driven at high speed toward the advancing army.
The Iraqi military fired back with a helicopter gunship.
Near Bartella, we met Maj. Jamal Namiq Ali, a Kurdish officer, with 50 mortars in his pickup truck. He said ISIS left them behind when its fighters ran away in a hurry.
They took their guns with them, he told us, but they left canned food and generators.
Some of the extremists may be fleeing, but others are fighting to the death. ISIS propaganda glorifies those who martyr themselves for the so-called Islamic State.
Iraq’s prime minister said this week that the offensive is moving faster than expected. But on the front lines it looks like a long and dangerous slog toward Mosul.
In the words of a senior U.S. official we spoke to, the battle to retake Mosul could be a “multi-month endeavor.”