As Iraqi forces move forward in their campaign to liberate Mosul city from the Islamic State, the US has said that dislodging the terror group from its self-declared capital would be a significant strategic development.
"I think the President would be the first to acknowledge that this is a significant test, given the population size of Mosul, given the large geographic area that it encompasses," White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest told reporters yesterday.
"The symbolic importance that the ISIL (ISIS) has invested in their control of Mosul, dislodging them from the city would be a significant strategic game," he said.
"That's why the United States and our Iraqi partners have been working so closely over the last several months to prepare for this operation," Earnest said in response to a question.
Acknowledging that the battle for Mosul is the next test because progress has already been made on the ground in Iraq, and there have been cities like Ramadi and Tikrit that were retaken from ISIS, he said, "these were significant cities, significant in their population size, that Iraqi security forces did succeed in dislodging ISIL from. They did that with the support of United States and our coalition partners,".
Responding to a question, the White House official said he is not aware that any sort of specific timeframe has been laid out for when that operation would be completed.
"Obviously, this represents the next important step in our campaigns campaign against ISIL in Iraq. The United States has mobilised a 67-member coalition to support the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces as they seek to rid ISIL from their country," he added.
Asserting that the campaign has been months in the making and there have been a number of important steps taken by the Iraqi security forces with the strong support of the US and its allies, he said the assault is an important part of the broader effort to ultimately destroy ISIS.
"It's an indication that the effort is moving forward but there's still a lot of important work to be done before that goal will be realised, even inside of Iraq," he added.
The White House's reaction came after the Iraqi government announced that its security forces with the support of the counter-ISIS coalition began operations to liberate the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the self-declared capital of the Islamic State.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said termed the operation a decisive moment in the counter-ISIS campaign.
"They started moving at 6:00 a.m. (local time). This is a decisive moment in the counter-ISIL campaign. It is in Mosul that ISIL's leader chose to announce its so-called caliphate.
"Mosul is also historically a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi- sectarian city, precisely the opposite of ISIL's hate-filled ideology, so it carries a great deal of symbolic importance in this fight as well," he said.
"But more than a symbol, Mosul is also a city of more than a million people. Over two years, ISIL has brutalised this city's population, committing horrific atrocities. This is a fight to free hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis from ISIL's rule," he added.
Cook said the Iraqi forces have support of an international counter-ISIS coalition of 60 nations led by the United States, providing advice and assistance, logistical support, intelligence and precision air power.
The coalition has conducted more than 54,000 training cycles for Iraqi security forces. It has conducted more than 10,000 precision strikes in Iraq, including more than 70 in the Mosul area just this month, he said.
"We are in the first day of what we assume will be a difficult campaign that could take some time. Early indications are that Iraqi forces have met their objectives so far and that they are ahead of schedule for this first day, this is going according to the Iraqi plan, but again, it's early and the enemy gets a vote here," Cook said.
"We will see whether ISIL stands and fights. We are confident no matter what, however, the Iraqis have the capabilities to get this job done and we stand ready to support them along with the rest of the coalition," he added.