Iraqi forces advance on Mosul
IRAQI forces are “ahead of schedule” in an offensive aimed at retaking Mosul and dealing a death blow to the Islamic State group, but the battle will be difficult and protracted, the Pentagon has said.
The start of the long-awaited assault raised deep concerns for hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in Iraq’s second largest city, with aid groups warning of a massive humanitarian crisis.
Some 30,000 federal forces are leading the offensive, backed by air and ground support from a 60-nation US-led coalition, in what is expected to be a long assault on the IS’s last major Iraqi stronghold.
The Pentagon said the operation had begun well but warned it would be a “difficult campaign that could take some time”. A top US general earlier said it would take several weeks or even longer.
“Early indications are that Iraqi forces have met their objectives so far, and that they are ahead of schedule for this first day,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said.
IS forces are vastly outnumbered, with the US military estimating 3000 to 4500 jihadists in and around Mosul.
But they have had months to prepare and will seek to use hit-and-run tactics, ambushes, snipers, bombs, berms and trenches to slow down and bleed Iraqi forces.
In an online statement after the assault began, the IS claimed it launched a series of deadly suicide car bombings against Iraqi forces.
Early yesterday, federal forces moved from their main staging base of Qayyarah, south of Mosul, as peshmerga forces from the autonomous Kurdish region advanced from the east.
Around 4000 Kurdish peshmerga took part in a push to reclaim villages once inhabited by members of the Christian and Kakai minorities.
Several villages were promptly recaptured and peshmerga forces have moved to the edges of Qaraqosh and Bartalla, two Christian towns the IS seized in August 2014.
The UN humanitarian coordinator
in Iraq, Lise Grande, told reporters that an exodus could begin within a week and some aid groups worried about preparedness.
“It is estimated that as many as 200,000 people could flee from the city in these first weeks, though there are currently only 60,000 tents available in seven emergency camps,” the International Rescue Committee said.
If Mosul falls, only Raqa in Syria would remain as the last major city under IS control. –