With Mosul set to fall, possibly within days, the main fight against IS – referred to by the acronym Daesh – will move to neighbouring Syria where their de facto capital, the city of Raqqa, is under attack.
In a briefing to reporters in Canberra on Thursday, Australian Defence Force chief of joint operations, Vice Admiral David Johnston said there were plenty of other people’s combat aircraft closer to Syria to support that fight.
Australia’s Air Task Group currently comprises six F/A-18F Super Hornets, an E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft and a KC-30A airborne refuelling aircraft.
All operate from bases in the United Arab Emirates, requiring a long flight up the Persian Gulf to reach their area of operations. Australia also has about 300 troops training Iraqi security forces, as well as a group of special forces mentoring the Iraqi Counter-terrorism Service.
However, Iraq has remained the main game, with most strike missions this year directed at supporting Iraqi security forces in the fight to retake Mosul.
Iraqi security forces have now compressed Daesh forces, thought to number under 400, into a small area of the old city of about half a square kilometre.
“The liberation of Mosul is inevitable and I expect success is now measured within days for when Mosul will be declared cleared,” he said.
VADM Johnston said the fight would increasingly move to Syria.
“It’s a long flight for us to get to that part so others are better placed to contribute there,” he said.
However, Daesh will still have a presence in Iraq, though their activities are now expected to take the form of insurgency.
VADM Johnston said the Australian government had undertaken to support Iraq through to the defeat of Daesh and the coalition would continue to back Iraqi forces in operations against these remaining pockets.
“We await further guidance from the government of Iraq about the timing and sequencing of those operations,” he said.
VADM Johnston said Iraqi forces would need a period of recovery after Mosul before turning their attention to other Daesh strongholds, including Tel Afar and the Euphrates Valley.
“I expect our contribution to be there well through to the end of the year in its current format and potentially into next year as well,” he said.
“It will all depend on how the Iraqi government decides to move on those other pockets of Daesh resistance.”