Liberation of ISIS-Held Mosul 'Possible' Before Trump Takes Office, Says Pentagon Chief

Iraqi Shiite militiamen
Shiite fighters from the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) paramilitaries sit in a vehicle driving through a desert area near the village of Al-Boutha al-Sharqiyah, west of Mosul, on December 2, 2016, during a broad offensive by Iraq forces to retake the main hub city from Islamic State group jihadists. Pentagon chief Ash Carter said Monday it is possible that the city would be liberated before Donald Trump takes office. Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty

As Iraqi forces supported by the U.S.-led coalition continue their bid to recapture the northern city of Mosul, action that's now in its seventh week, Pentagon chief Ash Carter said on Monday that it is possible they would liberate the city before U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

A coalition of Iraqi security forces, Kurdish peshmerga, Sunni tribesmen and Shiite militias, estimated to hold more than 30,000 troops, is battling the group on all sides of the city. However, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi looks unlikely to achieve his pledge of defeating the group in the country by the end of the year.

The militant group known as Islamic State (ISIS) has slowed the offensive with mortar fire, sniper fire, booby traps and suicide car bombs, but Carter, while expressing caution, estimated that the operation could just miss but secure its target before Trump begins his presidency on January 20.

"That is certainly possible, and again it is going to be a tough fight," Carter said in response to a question on board a U.S. military aircraft asking if the operation will be complete before Trump enters the Oval Office, Reuters reported.

"Obviously there [are] always weather issues… the Iraqi security forces are prepared for any eventuality there," Carter said.

ISIS retains control of approximately three-quarters of Mosul, the city that has provided the group with a logistics hub that has harbored some of its most senior figures and where the implementation of its brutal brand of Islamic law is strongest.

Iraq's elite forces have made the greatest gains in eastern Mosul, capturing several districts. But ISIS fighters have launched several counter-offensives since Friday, attacking Iraqi forces to the east, west and south of the city.

Related: Mosul residents are in a 'state of siege' with food and fuel scarce

The extremist group's new spokesman Abi al-Hassan al-Muhajer, a replacement for Abu Mohammad al-Adnani whom the U.S. coalition killed in an air strike in August, told supporters in an audio recording not to desert Tal Afar, the town situated on the route from Mosul to Syria that Iranian-backed Shia militiamen are attacking.

"Destroy their vehicles, raid them… in their shelters so they can taste some of your misery and do not talk yourselves into fleeing," Muhajer said in a recording that was not possible to verify, according to Reuters.

Elsewhere on Monday, Libyan forces allied to the country's U.N.-backed government said they had liberated the central coastal city of Sirte from ISIS. It was the only city outside of Iraq and Syria that the group controlled.