MOSUL UPDATE: IS MOVING WEST
Military operations against Islamic State fighters in Iraq’s second-largest city are progressing, with tough battles by Iraqi forces and fierce resistance from the terrorists, according to Pentagon officials familiar with reports of the military operation.
Much of the fighting has been taking place along a front in the eastern part of the city, a region that is more ethnically diverse than the dominant Sunni western side.
Iraqi forces, Iranian-backed militias and Kurdish peshmerga forces all are driving toward the Tigris River from the east and have encountered numerous suicide bombing attacks along the way.
The Islamic State has been employing waves of suicide bombers against the advancing military forces.
Leading the assaults for the Baghdad government are specially trained troops known as the Counter Terrorism Service, or CTS, that have been advancing methodically in retaking eastern Mosul neighborhoods.
One of the advancing forces’ recent discoveries was a mass grave near the town of Hammam al-Alil, south of Mosul along the Tigris.
U.S. and coalition aircraft, including bombers, fighters and drones, have conducted tens of attacks on Islamic State fighters, mainly fighting positions and snipers, in the past several days.
Military planners say one key target of the operation to retake Mosul is the airport, located about 12 miles south of the center city.
Pentagon officials said the Islamic State fighters are expected to retreat westward and, as they do, to blow up the five Tigris River bridges leading into Mosul in a bid to slow the advance.
“The hard part is yet to come,” said a senior military officer.
The plan is to encircle the city and then clear it of Islamic State fighters.
Islamic State defenses also include concrete barricades. Intelligence photographs have shown the streets behind the barricades lined with cars — an indication that the fighters are planning to use car bombs against the advancing Iraqi forces.
“They’ve got [improvised explosive devices] implanted along the entire route into the city,” the officer said.