Iraq Forces Converge on Mosul Airport
Iraqi forces backed by jets and helicopters battled their way to Mosul airport Monday as they prepared to take on the ISIL group’s stronghold in the city’s west bank.
The fresh push in the four-month-old operation to retake Mosul has sparked fears for 750,000 trapped civilians who risk getting killed trying to flee and face starvation if they stay.
“The federal police has resumed its advance… Our cannons are targeting ISIL defense lines with heavy fire,” federal police chief Raed Shaker Jawdat said.
Federal police forces, as well as elite units from the interior ministry, army soldiers and Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitary fighters, launched a major assault on Sunday.
On the second day of the renewed offensive, they pushed northwards towards Mosul airport, which lies on the southern approach to the city, on the east bank of the Tigris River.
The assault marks a new phase in the broad operation launched on October 17 to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second city and the terrorists’ last major stronghold in the country.
The recapture of Mosul would deal a death blow to the “caliphate” which ISIL chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed in the city in June 2014 but has been shrinking steadily for two years as anti-ISIL forces advanced.
But it took the Iraq’s most seasoned forces, the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), two months to retake east Mosul, where ISIL put up stiffer than expected resistance.
Commanders and experts believe the city’s west bank could prove even harder to retake, with the narrow streets of the Old City forcing Iraqi forces to undertake perilous dismounted raids.
ISIL also “likely has stronger support within western Mosul, and the ISF (Iraqi security forces) are more likely to encounter populations that are wary or hostile,” said Patrick Martin, Iraq analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.