U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Saturday to receive an on-the-ground progress report on the battle to liberate the key city of Mosul from ISIS.
Carter, who will also meet with Iraq officials during the trip, arrived as the formal Iraqi campaign to oust ISIS entered its sixth day. Iraqi and Kurdish forces have encircled Mosul and U.S. artillery and gunships are pounding enemy positions on the city’s outskirts.
U.S. officials insist that Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces are leading the battle and the approximately 5,000 U.S. personnel in the country are playing a secondary role.
Still, dangers for American forces persist. Yesterday, a U.S. service member was killed when his vehicle triggered an improvised explosive devise in northern Iraq, according to officials. He was transported to Kurdish-controlled city of Irbil, but died of his wounds.
Officials have expressed cautious optimism on how the initial phase of the campaign to liberate Mosul has unfolded, but they stress that ISIS has a battled-hardened force that is both callous and creative. Yesterday, ISIS launched an attack in Kirkurk, in Kurdish held territory. Local reports said the attack killed an estimated 40 people.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Hans Nichols