Iraqi general calls on Mosul fighters to quit
KHAZER, Iraq — A seni or Iraqi general on Wednesday called on Iraqis fighting for the Islamic State group in Mosul to surrender as a wide-scale operation to retake the militant-held city entered its third day.
The militants have put up fierce resistance in villages surrounding the city, where most of the fighting has been concentrated. The Islamic State, also called ISIS, has sent trucks loaded with explosives careening toward the front lines and fired mortars to slow the Iraqi forces’ advance.
Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati told reporters at a military base that up to 6,000 ISIS fighters are inside the city.
Attack planes from the Maryland Air National Guard are aiding the offensive. Col. Charles S. Kohler, a spokesman for the Guard, confirmed that the aircraft were taking part in the battle but declined to provide any further details for security reasons. A dozen A-10s and 280 airmen from the Guard’s 104th Fighter Squadron deployed to the Middle East last week, just days before the fight to retake Mosul began. The planes are scheduled to be retired in 2020 and the deployment to fight the Islamic State could be their last.
American officials have provided few details on how U.S. forces are aiding the effort.
A Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday that more than 100 U.S. troops are embedded with Iraqi forces, including the Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga, as they advance toward Mosul.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters the Americans are “well back” from the front lines as they advise the Iraqis and perform other tasks such as relaying information about potential airstrike targets. Hundreds of other U.S. troops are in support roles, such as processing intelligence and providing logistical help from Iraqi staging bases.
Kohler declined to say how many sorties the Maryland planes have flown as part of the battle or whether they have been involved in any strikes.
ISIS captured Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest cities, in a lightning advance in the summer of 2014. The extremist group has suf- fered a string of defeats over the past year, and Mosul is its last major urban bastion in Iraq.
An Iraqi officer from the 9th Division said his troops were now around a halfmile away from Hamdaniyah to the east of Mosul.
Over the past day, ISIS sent 12 car bombs, all of which were blown up before reaching their targets, he said, adding that Iraqi troops suffered a small number of casualties from the mortar rounds.
To the north, airstrikes pounded Bashiqa as Kurdish forces fired mortar rounds from an area overlooking the ISIS- held town.
Save the Children said 5,000 people have fled to a refugee camp in northeastern Syria from the Mosul area in the last 10 days, with another 1,000 waiting to enter at the border.
The group said the camp is “littered with waste and feces, with a looming risk of outbreaks of disease.”
The U.N. believes up to 1.5 million people in Mosul will be at great risk of being targeted, caught in crossfire, expelled or used as human shields.
An Iraqi military convoy advances toward Mosul on Wednesday, the third day of battle.