By Phil Stewart
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Iraq's forces for its long-awaited push on Mosul will be ready in October, the top U.S. general said on Monday, in the latest sign that a full-fledged campaign to recapture the city from Islamic State is fast approaching.
Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a small group of reporters that the timing of the offensive, however, would be up to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
"They will have all of the forces that they need and it will be a political decision by Prime Minister Abadi as to when operations actually are conducted," Dunford said as he flew home from talks with U.S. allies in Europe.
"But our job is to actually help the Iraqis generate the forces and the support necessary for operations in Mosul and we'll be ready for that in October."
Mosul has been the largest urban center under the militants' control, with a prewar population of nearly 2 million. It was from Mosul's Grand Mosque in 2014 that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a "caliphate" spanning regions of Iraq and Syria.
Pentagon planners have cautioned that the battle for Mosul could present a mixed picture for war planners, with Islamic State likely to retreat in some areas of the city only to reinforce in others.
Abadi has pledged repeatedly to retake Mosul by the end of the year, and Iraqi commanders have indicated that the campaign could begin as soon as the second half of October
Last month, the head of the U.S. military's Central Command voiced confidence that Iraq was on track to meet its objective, should Abadi choose to go forward as planned.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday his administration would ask Congress and other countries to "step up" aid for Iraq to help rebuild Mosul after the operation to dislodge Islamic State militants.
Speaking to reporters at the end of a meeting with Abadi, Obama said he hoped for progress by the end of 2016 on Mosul but acknowledged a tough fight ahead.
"This is going to be a challenging battle. Mosul is a large city and ISIL has embedded itself deeply within that city," Obama said, referring to the militant group by an acronym. (Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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