Iraq forces in west Mosul aim for key bridge

2017-02-26 22:06
(Khalid Mohammed, AP)

(Khalid Mohammed, AP)

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Mosul - Iraqi forces on Sunday battled jihadists in west Mosul, aiming to build a floating bridge across the Tigris to establish an important supply route linked to the recaptured east bank.

A week into a major push on the western side of the city, where an estimated 2 000 holdout jihadists and 750 000 civilians are trapped, government forces made steady progress.

But after relatively easy gains on the city's outskirts, they encountered increasingly stiff resistance from ISIS defending its emblematic stronghold.

Damaged and unusable

"We had an important operation this morning (on Sunday) to move towards the bridge," said Colonel Falah al-Wabdan, from the interior ministry's Rapid Response units that have spearheaded the breach into west Mosul.

"We have moved past a large berm constructed by Daesh (ISIS) with tunnels underneath," he said, adding that the area was heavily mined and that his forces had killed 44 jihadists on Sunday alone.

Wabdan was referring to what is known as "the fourth bridge", the southernmost of five bridges - all of which are damaged and unusable - across the Tigris River that divides the northern Iraqi city.

Government forces retook the east bank from ISIS a month ago, completing a key phase in an offensive on Mosul that began on October 17 and has involved tens of thousands of fighters.

Wabdan said that securing the bank area near the fourth bridge would allow engineering units to extend a ribbon bridge to the other side and further pile pressure on the jihadists.

"It is very important because if we take it, engineering units... will be able to throw a bridge across from the left bank so we can move supplies and ammunition from the battle field," he said.

Bridging operations under fire are complex and perilous but Iraqi forces have been trained by the US military and successfully used that strategy before in the fight against ISIS.

Claw back

A ribbon bridge assembled with US assistance over the Euphrates River was considered a turning point in the battle that eventually saw Iraqi forces retake the western stronghold of Ramadi from the jihadists a year ago.

The elite Counter-Terrorism Service that has done most of the fighting against ISIS in Mosul so far entered the western neighbourhood of Al-Maamun  on Friday.

Troops from the US-led coalition assisting Iraq in its efforts to claw back the swathes of territory it lost to ISIS in 2014 have stepped up their involvement on the ground in recent weeks.

Read more on:    isis  |  iraq

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