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Lt. Gen Stephen Townsend leads US military in Iraq, including those advising on Mosul

Iraqi forces are leading the battle, and "doing it their way," Townsend says

Northern Iraq CNN  — 

In a Blackhawk helicopter high above the battlefield, the senior US commander in Iraq is briefed on progress made so far by Iraqi and Kurdish forces in their fight to liberate Mosul from ISIS.

Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend is on one of his regular tours to visit US troops advising and assisting Iraqi commanders, and he tells us they’re doing – so far – exactly what they said they’d do.

“Their plan the way they designed it is unfolding pretty much as they predicted,” he says.

Back in the US, the offensive has become part of the presidential campaign. Donald Trump says the operation is “poorly planned” and “bogged down” – a “disaster” in his words.

The general, while not addressing Trump specifically, disagrees with the assertion.

“We gave them [the Iraqis] some advice but they’re the ones who decided what they were going to do and set it all in motion,” he says.

“I don’t see any evidence they’re bogged down at all. I don’t know – whoever is saying that I don’t know where they’re getting at. I don’t see that.”

Townsend also rejected claims the assault was too widely telegraphed in advance.

“It’s just really hard to move 40,000 troops into position from middle Iraq to northern Iraq and maintain complete secrecy,” he says. “It’s almost next to impossible.”

‘It would be tough for our army’

His first stop is one of three so-called staging areas, where Iraqi troops gather and the Americans advise before the Iraqis move to the front. He meets and greets the US troops – most from the 101st Airborne – and talks with Iraqi commanders.

For Townsend these forays are part boosting troop morale, part tactical planning and conferring with Iraqi commanders. He’s emphatic about who’s in charge.

“It’s up to them, right? It’s their plan,” he says of Iraqi forces. “They’re taking back their second largest city, they’re doing it their way. I think it’s more important they be pleased with how it’s going.”