US official says anti-Islamic State forces gaining momentum

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. representative to the anti-Islamic State coalition told Congress on Tuesday that morale inside the extremist group is plummeting, as the forces arrayed against it are gaining momentum.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk said the Islamic State’s days in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, are “numbered” as lawmakers called for the Obama administration to move faster to defeat the extremists.

The Islamic State remains firmly in control of Mosul, which was once home to a million people. Iraqi leaders have pledged to liberate Mosul this year. But McGurk said the U.S. won’t put a timeline on the Mosul operation.

“Whereas (the Islamic State) once promised lavish pay for recruits, and free services in its ‘caliphate,’ it is now slashing pay, cannot provide services, and is facing internal resistance,” McGurk said. “We know from other sources, as well, that (IS) fighters are panicking on the battlefield, foreign recruits are now looking to return home, and leaders are struggling to maintain discipline, even despite the threat of execution for disobedience.”

McGurk’s testimony comes two weeks after a lone gunman who pledged solidarity with the Islamic State killed 49 people and injured 53 at an Orlando nightclub. McGurk said no direct link has been found between the Orlando gunman and the Islamic State.

Five weeks after a military operation began, a senior Iraqi commander on Sunday declared the city of Fallujah in Iraq had been “fully liberated” from the Islamic State, giving a major boost to the country’s security and political leadership in its fight against the extremists. Fallujah was the first city to fall to the Islamic State group more than two years ago.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., questioned whether progress on the battlefield in Iraq could result in the Islamic State seeking to increase the number of attacks against Western targets.

McGurk said that more “lone wolf” style attacks such as the one in Orlando are possible as the Islamic State loses territory, but he told the committee that the Islamic State “has been talking about attacking us for years.” But he acknowledged that the “lone wolf attacks are very difficult to stop.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., criticized the Obama administration for failing to come up with a game plan that actually leads to the Islamic State being defeated. He compared the administration’s anti-Islamic State campaign to poking a beehive and succeeding primarily in making the bees angrier.

McGurk said the U.S. and its allies are moving as quickly as possible and said that no significant territory liberated by coalition-backed forces has been reclaimed by the extremist group.

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