Heavy fighting in Mosul as ISIS hits tank during Iraqi assault

2016-11-04 14:49
Kurdish security forces take up a position as they fight overlooking the Islamic State-controlled in villages surrounding Mosul, in Khazer, about 30km east of Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo)

Kurdish security forces take up a position as they fight overlooking the Islamic State-controlled in villages surrounding Mosul, in Khazer, about 30km east of Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo)

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Mosul — Heavy fighting erupted in the eastern neighbourhoods of Mosul on Friday as Iraqi special forces launched an assault deeper into the urban areas of the city and Islamic State militants fired back, striking and disabling an Abrams tank with a rocket.

ISIS hit the tank with a rocket fired from a nearby building, sending its crew fleeing from the smoking vehicle, seemingly unharmed. The fighting has been the most intense urban combat in Mosul since the Iraqi offensive began over two weeks ago to drive ISIS from the city, Iraq's second-largest.

The early morning advance began with artillery and mortar strikes on the Aden, Tahrir, and Quds districts, just west of special forces' footholds in the Gogjali and Karama neighbourhoods, Lieutenant Colonel Muhanad al-Timimi said. Both sides opened up with small arms and mortar fire after an artillery barrage by the special forces, ahead of their advance.

A bulldozer and another car later emerged from ISIS-held territory, presumably packed with explosives and preparing for suicide attacks.

The Islamic State group is fighting to hold Mosul as Iraqi forces and allied Kurdish troops squeeze in from all directions with US-led coalition support, mostly from airstrikes and reconnaissance.

On Tuesday, Iraqi troops entered the city limits for the first time in more than two years — soldiers had withdrawn from Mosul in the face of ISIS militants' 2014 blitz that seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Now the Iraqi forces are gearing up for urban warfare expected to take weeks, if not months, as they work their way neighbourhood by neighbourhood, going through a warren of dense buildings prone to booby traps and ambushes.

More than 1 million civilians are stuck in the city, complicating the military's efforts to advance without harming innocents. ISIS militants have driven thousands of them deeper into the city's built-up areas, presumably for use as human shields, while hundreds of others have fled in the past days toward government-controlled territory despite the uncertainty of resettlement in displacement camps.

Mosul is the last major ISIS stronghold in Iraq, and expelling the militant group from it would be a major blow to the survival of its self-declared "caliphate" that stretches into Syria. When ISIS seized Mosul and other territory in 2014, the much larger Iraqi military had been neglected and demoralised by corruption.

Iraqi forces have made uneven progress in closing in on the city since the operation began on October 17. Advances have been slower to the south, with government troops still 35km away, although they seized a handful of villages late last week. Kurdish fighters and Iraqi army units are deployed to the north, while government-sanctioned Shi’ite militias are sweeping in from the west to try to cut off any ISIS escape route.

One of the leading Shi’ite militias, the Hezbollah Brigades, said on Wednesday that its fighters have gained control of a highway linking Mosul to the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the militants' self-proclaimed caliphate.

The militias' umbrella group, the Popular Mobilization Units, say they will not enter Mosul and will instead focus on retaking Tal Afar, a town to the west that had a Shi’ite majority before it fell to ISIS in 2014.

Read more on:    isis  |  iraq

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