Iraqi forces advance in east Mosul
Hundreds taken to nearby hospitals as fighting takes heavy civilian toll
IRBIL, Iraq/BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces pushed Daesh (ISIS) fighters back further in Mosul Tuesday in a renewed effort to seize the northern city and deal a decisive blow to the militant group, though progress was slower in some districts, the army said.
Iraqi forces and their allies have captured villages and towns surrounding Mosul and seized at least two-thirds of its eastern districts, military officials say, pushing right up to the eastern bank of the Tigris River in recent days.
But the government had initially hoped to retake Mosul by the end of 2016 and three months into the U.S.-backed campaign, the militants still control all the territory to the west of the Tigris that bisects the city from north to south.
Wounded civilians streamed into nearby hospitals and Iraqi forces blamed Daesh for shooting at fleeing residents and shelling populated areas after losing control of them.
United Nations humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said nearly 700 people had been taken to hospitals in Kurdish-controlled areas outside Mosul in the last week and more than 817 had required hospital treatment a week earlier. “Trauma casualties remain extremely high, particularly near front lines,” he told reporters in Geneva.
Advances inside Mosul slowed in November and December as troops engaged in tough urban warfare with the militants, who are thought to number several thousand inside the city.
The militants have fought back with suicide car bombs and snipers hidden among the civilian population. They have also blown up bridges crossing the Tigris to try to slow the Iraqi advance, military officials say.
Elite forces in the city’s east and northeast have advanced faster since the turn of the year thanks to new tactics and better coordination, but there was stiff resistance in the southeast of Mosul, military officials said.
Lt. Col. Abbas al-Azawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi army’s 16th division, said Iraqi forces entered Hadba Tuesday, a large northeastern district, though it would likely take more than a day to capture and Daesh was deploying suicide bombers.
Elite Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service units encircled the nearby Sukkar district Monday and sought to recapture the strategic Mosul University area.
The CTS and army units want to capture all the eastern bank of the Tigris so they can launch operations to retake western Mosul.
An army statement and the U.S. coalition said Daesh had blown up sections of two bridges linking east and west Mosul in a bid to hamper crossings by Iraqi forces.
Mosul’s five bridges across the Tigris had already been partially damaged by U.S.-led airstrikes to slow the militants’ movement.
Coalition spokesman U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian told
Iraqi forces patrol a street in Mosul next to the Al-Salam Hospital in the Wihdah neighborhood after recapturing the area from Daesh.