US wants Mosul offensive on ISIS in April-May: Military officials

Volunteers from Mosul, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against Islamic State militants, gathering on the outskirts of Dohuk province on Jan 24, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Volunteers from Mosul, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against Islamic State militants, gathering on the outskirts of Dohuk province on Jan 24, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States wants Iraq to launch its offensive to retake the strategic northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group in April or May, military officials said.

Mosul is believed to be held by 1,000-2,000 ISIS fighters and 20,000-25,000 Iraqi troops are needed to carry out the offensive, an official with US Central Command said on Thursday.

"The mark on the wall we are still shooting for is the April-May timeframe," the official said, adding that because of Ramadan and the increasing heat of summer, "it becomes problematic if it goes much later (than May)."

A US ground role in the offensive force, to help direct air strikes, has not been ruled out, the official said.

But Iraqi troops will form the bulk of the force, while three Kurdish brigades are planned to also participate.

US-led coalition aircraft have recently focused air strikes in the area of Mosul and Kurdish forces have made inroads on the ground nearby.