Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, said Wednesday he is watching how Iraq's government responds to the recent spate of ISIS attacks
, and while he doesn't see that shift in Iraq's priorities yet, he calls it a potential worry.
If the attacks in Baghdad continue, Votel said, "there is a little concern that if this is not addressed quickly it could cause them (the Iraqi government) to have to take action to divert forces and divert their politics focus on that, as opposed to things like Mosul or finishing up their activities out in Anbar."
CNN is the only television network on the military plane carrying Votel, the four-star general who heads Central Command, to the Middle East to meet with his commanders, the troops and regional military officials. He spoke during a refueling stop at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
While ISIS is still committed to establishing a caliphate, Votel suggested the organization is moving back to its terror roots to try to regain momentum.
"We are seeing them see opportunities," he said. "We have to respect our enemies and respect their ability to adapt and adjust on the battlefield."
Votel called ISIS' activities "abhorrent."
The fight for Mosul
The U.S. has trained over 22,000 Iraqi forces at six locations. But the key question is whether Iraqi forces are prepared for the fight to retake Mosul that is expected to happen in the coming months.
And with the ongoing devastating ISIS attacks in Baghdad, the Iraqi government is keeping tens of thousands of troops on hand for the defense of the capital.
Votel gets instant updates on this plane packed with communications gear, his most senior staff constantly sifting through information.
As outlined by Votel, the key battlefield goals in Iraq include:
- Eventually recapturing Mosul, although that may not happen for months.
- Stabilizing Anbar Province, which the U.S. believes may be the launching point for many of the attacks in Baghdad.
- Pressuring and isolating Raqqa -- ISIS' self-declared capital in Syria.
So far, according to Votel, the U.S. is devoting nearly 5,000 forces to getting Iraqi and moderate Syrian rebels trained and ready to fight.
Another 217 American forces are authorized to go into Iraq to help Iraqi forces and another 250 into Syria.
So far very few have arrived. And it's not clear when Iraqi forces could be ready to do what the U.S. wants -- envelop Mosul and break ISIS' stranglehold.