Iraqi forces on the move

Closely sup­ported by the U.S.-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion, Iraqi forces se­cured a series of cau­tious ad­vances on Thurs­day.

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Backed by the U.S.-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion, Iraqi forces fought their way Thurs­day into a sprawl­ing mil­i­tary base out­side of Mo­sul and onto the grounds of the city’s air­port, tak­ing con­trol of the run­way amid fierce ex­changes of fire with Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

The two-pronged ad­vance is part of a ma­jor as­sault that started ear­lier this week to drive the Is­lamic State group from the western half of Mo­sul, Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city

The Iraqi fed­eral po­lice units, backed by reg­u­lar army forces, en­tered the air­port on Thurs­day morn­ing, ac­cord­ing to two po­lice of­fi­cials who said heavy clashes were un­der­way hours later with IS mil­i­tants hun­kered down in­side sev­eral air­port build­ings.

The of­fi­cials said troops from the U.S.-led coali­tion were with the ad­vanc­ing forces, though they didn’t spec­ify the na­tion­al­i­ties of the for­eign forces. They spoke to The As­so­ci­ated Press on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to talk to re­porters.

Pri­vate broad­caster Le­banon-based Al-Mayadeen aired live footage from the Mo­sul air­port perime­ter, show­ing a mil­i­tary he­li­copter buzzing over­heard and fir­ing at IS po­si­tions as gun­fire rat­tled.

By early af­ter­noon, fed­eral po­lice com­man­der, Maj. Gen. Raid Shakir Jaw­dat told the Iraqi state TV that his troops have con­trol of “more than half” of the air­port com­plex.

Separately, Iraqi spe­cial forces en­tered the Gha­zlani mil­i­tary base next to the air­port on the south­ern edge of the city, the spokesman of the Joint Mil­i­tary Op­er­a­tion Com­mand, Brig. Gen. Yahya Ra­sool, told the AP.

Ra­sool said heavy clashes were un­der­way in­side the base. He did not pro­vide more de­tails.

On Sun­day, af­ter weeks of prepa­ra­tions, Iraqi forces of­fi­cially launched the op­er­a­tion to take Mo­sul’s western half, with the Iraqi reg­u­lar army and fed­eral po­lice forces tak­ing part in the ini­tial push. Since then, the mil­i­tary says they have re­taken some 120 square kilo­me­tres south of the city.

Thurs­day marked the first time the Iraqi spe­cial forces, which played a key role in se­cur­ing the eastern half of the city, joined the fight for western Mo­sul.

“The coun­tert­er­ror­ism forces will be an ad­di­tional force, which will ex­pe­dite the lib­er­a­tion of Mo­sul’s western side,” Ra­sool said.

Also Thurs­day, an­other coun­tert­er­ror­ism unit cap­tured a key vil­lage south­west of Mo­sul from where Is­lamic State group’s snipers and shelling had been slow­ing the gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive, Ra­sool added. IS had used Tell al-Rayan to po­si­tion snipers and fire off rock­ets and mor­tar rounds to de­rail the ad­vance of the Iraqi troops, he said.

In Jan­uary, Iraqi au­thor­i­ties de­clared the eastern half of Mo­sul “fully lib­er­ated” from IS. The bat­tle for western Mo­sul, the ex­trem­ist group’s last ma­jor ur­ban bas­tion in Iraq, is ex­pected to be most daunt­ing yet.

AP PHOTO

Dis­placed Iraqis flee their homes due to fight­ing be­tween Iraqi spe­cial forces and Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, on the western side of Mo­sul, Iraq, Thurs­day.

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