U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived in Baghdad on July 11 for talks with Iraqi leaders on the fight against Islamic State (IS) and plans to recapture of Mosul from the extremist group.
"What I'll be discussing with Prime Minister [Haider al-Abadi] and our commanders there are the next plays in the campaign, which involve the collapse and control over Mosul," Carter said ahead of his visit.
Carter’s visit comes two days after Iraqi forces took back control of Qayara air base, 60 kilometers south of Mosul, from the militant group, backed by air cover from a U.S.-led military coalition.
Carter described its recapture as a key strategic victory, saying the air base can serve as a launchpad for future operations to retake Mosul, IS’s largest stronghold.
The air base will be one of the hubs from which "Iraqi security forces, accompanied and advised by us as needed, will complete the southernmost envelopment of Mosul,” Carter said.
Despite losing ground to Iraqi forces in recent months, IS militants still control large swaths of Iraq and continue to launch deadly attacks, including the massive suicide bombing July 3 at Baghdad's crowded commercial area of Karada.
As many as 186 died in that attack.