Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend assumed command of the U.S. campaign Sunday against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, pledging to floor the gas on the fight.
“I don’t want to make promises, but I intend to have Mosul and Raqqa done on my watch,” Townsend told Stars and Stripes, making a hefty promise for only a year’s stint.
Townsend also threw a warning to both the Russians and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying, “We’ve informed the Russians where we’re at.” Townsend then added that the Russians “tell us they’ve informed the Syrians, and I’d just say that we will defend ourselves if we feel threatened.”
For Townsend, acceleration of the effort entails more airstrikes and more training and equipping of local forces, although the U.S. will not increase its own ground effort. With further airstrikes, Townsend hopes that Syrian and Iraqi ground forces will have the time they need to recover before launching major attacks to recapture Mosul and Raqqa.
Towsend is optimistic about achieving that goal.
“Our tour is a year long, and I anticipate being busy with that the bulk of the tour,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “But it’s my intent to have liberated Mosul and Raqqa and be in a pursuit phase by the end of our tour.”
Once Mosul and Raqqa are in the bag, Townsend thinks what’s left of ISIS will “have to crawl into holes and little villages in the desert and hide” at which point the terror group will transform into an insurgency. When that transition takes place, the U.S. will switch up tactics to crush the insurgency.
“But right now, my focus is on destroying the physical caliphate,” Townsend said.
Townsend took over command from Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland.
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