In July, Iraqi forces cleared the Qayyarah airbase, 60 kilometers from Mosul, preparing for a major offensive on the city, which the terror group declared the Iraqi capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate in 2014.
Now, preparations for the retaking Mosul are on full display. US forces have set up a logistics center south of the city and the United Nations is bracing for a complicated humanitarian mission.
Following Gen Stephen Townsend report, US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for US forces in Iraq, refused to confirm the dateline at a Department of Defense briefing, saying only that “if the desire is to try to get it done around the end of the year, we're going to have to start soon."
At least 3,000 Daesh terrorists are said to remain in the city, of which a third is “the hardest-core” group, according to Gen Townsend.
He adds that retaking Mosul will be difficult to achieve quickly.
"“We’re preparing for a hard fight, a long, difficult fight” Townsend said on Wednesday. “Really, it’s a siege I’m talking about here.”"
Major General Najm al-Jabouri the Mosul operation commander for Iraqi forces, claimed, however, that it would be “easy” to take the city by the year end.
He said that many Daesh commanders have been recently killed in coalition airstrikes, while others have fled to Syria.
Al-Jabouri added that government forces are ready to clear the west of Iraq from Daesh prior to the beginning of 2017.
""We will go to Mosul, they will go to Tel Afar. We will go to Tel Afar, they will go to Baaj," Al-Jabouri said. "We will go to Baaj, maybe. It depends on the situation in Syria. They can get to Syria but the situation there is not like before. It is not a safe haven for them now.""
Gen. Townsend added that only Iraqi “army and police” would enter Mosul, excluding Shiite fighters and Kurdish groups involved in the offensive.
The UN has expressed concern that the offensive will result in a massive humanitarian crisis that the government is not prepared for.
Under some assessments, up to a million people could flee the city during the offensive, but there are said to be resources to accept only 450,000. "If there is mass displacement, there could be shantytowns in the disputed border areas because the plan for camps doesn't accommodate them all," said Tom Robinson, director of the Rise Foundation, in analyzing Iraq's humanitarian crisis, Sputnik reports.