Wave of strikes as IS puts up tough defence of Mosul
IRAQI forces advancing on Mosul faced stiff resistance from the Islamic State group despite an unprecedented wave of US-led coalition air strikes in support of the week-old offensive.
Federal forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters gained ground in several areas but the jihadists were hitting back with shelling, sniper fire, suicide car bombs and booby traps.
The IS has also tried to draw attention away from losses around Mosul by attacking Iraqi forces elsewhere.
Following a weekend visit to Iraq by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, American officials said the coalition was providing the most air support yet.
“One week into Mosul operation, all objectives met thus far, and more coalition air strikes than any other 7-day period of war against ISIL [IS],” Brett McGurk, the top US envoy to the 60-nation coalition, wrote on social media.
“There were 32 strikes with 1776 munitions delivered” against IS targets between October 17 and 23, coalition spokesperson Colonel John Dorrian said, adding that 136 IS fighting positions, 18 tunnels and 26 car bombs were destroyed.
NATO defence ministers are set to meet in Brussels tomorrow to take stock of the offensive and discuss possible scenarios following a recapture of the city.
The offensive aims to retake towns and villages surrounding Mosul before elite troops breach the city to engage die-hard jihadists in street-to-street fighting.
On the eastern side of Mosul on October 24, federal troops were battling IS in Qaraqosh, formerly Iraq’s largest Christian town.
Forces entered the town for the third day running but armoured convoys around it were shelled from inside the town.
Federal forces also scored gains on the southern front where they have been making speedy progress, taking village after village as they work their way up the Tigris Valley. On the northern front, peshmerga forces were closing in on the IS-held town of Bashiqa.
While an increasingly pragmatic IS has tended recently to relinquish some positions to avoid taking too many casualties, US officials said the group was mounting a spirited defence of Mosul.
If the IS loses Mosul in Iraq, only Raqa in Syria will remain as the last major city it controls in either country.
The coalition estimates the number of IS fighters defending Mosul – where IS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” two years ago – at 4000 to 7000. –