Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces launched offensivein battle for Mosul from Takfiri Daesh terrorist group

October 20, 2016 12:30 pm

Fourth day of battle to retake ISIL stronghold sees entrance of Iraqi special forces and advance from northeast.

More than 100,000 troops are involved in the offensive to retake from ISIL, who are thought to have about 5,000 fighters [Reuters]

The Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces have begun a new two-pronged offensive against ISIL in Mosul, from the northeastern Bashiqa region and through eastern Bartella villages.

Iraqi special forces joined Thursday’s offensive in a pre-dawn advance on Bartella, encountering heavy fire from the Islamic State of and the Levant group (ISIL).

Major General Maan al-Saadi said the elite Counterterrorism Forces were helped by US-led coalition air raids and heavy artillery on the fourth day of the massive operation to retake Iraq’s second-largest city from ISIL, which is also known as ISIS.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reported hearing the sound of heavy gunfire and artillery from the frontline near Bartella, as the offensive got under way.

“Earlier this morning, ISIL tried to send a suicide car bomber, but that was destroyed,” Khodr said.

“The focus of this latest offensive is to reach the perimeters of Mosul city,” Khodr added, reporting that the area in Bartella where the push is ongoing is roughly 12km away.

Special forces are expected to lead the way into Mosul, where they will face fierce resistance in an urban landscape where ISIL fighters are preparing for a climactic battle.

In the areas surrounding Mosul, Iraqi troops can benefit from the use of air power and artillery, whereas the fight will be very different once they enter the city, Khodr reported.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from the frontline near Bashiqa, said that the “intensive” northeastern offensive, led by the Kurdish Peshmerga, also marks a new entry point into the battle.

“So far, the northeast has remained static. It is the first time they have pushed through here, all the way from the Mosul Dam,” she said. “Kurdish Peshmerga forces here are ready to encounter a lot of booby traps, as well as one of the main challenges so far, suicide bombers. But they do have air support, as well as artillery and mortar fire [as back-up].”

Abdel Hamid reported that there were “large explosions and a stream of ambulances” rushing back towards the hospitals from the frontlines, indicating casualties on the Peshmerga side in the early hours of Thursday’s offensive.

Just as the Peshmerga forces recaptured nine villages on the first day of the offensive, the goal of the northeastern push is to retake and secure surrounding areas in Bashiqa before awaiting support from Iraqi troops to prepare to enter Mosul city, Abdel Hamid added.

Displaced people who are fleeing from clashes arrive in Qayyarah, during the battle for Mosul [Reuters]
Meanwhile, civilians have already been displaced by the advance and ensuing battles, with hundreds of thousands more expected in the coming weeks.

The United Nations said it fears that  up to a million people could be forced from their homes by the fighting.

And in Mosul, hundreds of thousands of civilians were trapped with dwindling supplies on Wednesday, many sheltering in basements.

“We couldn’t sleep last night because of the air strikes. The explosions were huge but I’m not sure what the targets were,” said Abu Saif, a 47-year-old resident contacted by AFP agency. “Many families are starting to run out of some basic food goods, there is no commercial activity in Mosul – the city is cut off from the world.”

Battle for Mosul

The offensive is the largest operation launched by Iraqi forces since the 2003 US-led invasion.

More than 100,000 troops are involved, while there are thought to be nearly 5,000 ISIL fighters in and around Mosul. It is expected to take weeks, if not months.
Amer al-Jabbar, a 30-year-old soldier with the Iraqi special forces, said he was happy to be taking part in the attack and hoped to avenge two brothers killed while fighting for the Iraqi security forces.

“I had one brother who became a martyr in 2007 and another who became a martyr in 2014,” AP quoted him as saying. “I want to avenge them and I’m ready to die.”

ISIL captured Mosul during a lightning advance across northern Iraq in 2014, and ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the formation of a self-styled caliphate from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque.

Mosul is the largest city controlled by the armed group and its last major urban bastion in Iraq.

Iraq’s US-trained special forces are seen as far more capable than the security forces that crumbled as ISIL advanced in 2014. They have played a central role in retaking several cities and towns over the past year, including Ramadi and Fallujah, in the western Anbar province.

Nearly 30,000 forces, including the Iraqi army, the Peshmerga, Sunni tribal fighters and Shia militias are taking part in the Mosul offensive, which began on Monday after months of preparation. They will be advancing on the city from several directions.

The US is carrying out air strikes and artillery shelling in support of the operation. More than 100 US forces are embedded with the Iraqis, and hundreds more are playing a supporting role in staging bases.

Major General Gary Volesky, the top commander of US land forces in Iraq, said on Wednesday that US Army Apache attack helicopters were striking ISIL targets in support of the operation.

Government troops advanced on the town of Bartallah, located less than 20 kilometers east of Mosul, on Thursday after capturing a string of villages nearby. 
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraqi forces were pushing towards Mosul more quickly “than we thought and more quickly than planned.”
Abadi made the remarks in a video conference address to an international meeting held in Paris on Thursday.
The prime minister noted that Daesh is a destructive ideology and a threat to the region and the rest of the world.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is pictured on a screen as he speaks on a video conference link during an international meeting co-hosted by France and Iraq on the future of Mosul. (Photo by AFP)

“Our war today in Mosul is an Iraqi war conducted by Iraqis for Iraqis and for the defense of Iraq’s territory,” he said. “Full Iraqi unity is shining through and more than ever showing the unity to vanquish terrorism.” 
Abadi also said he would not tolerate any human rights violations on the battlefield and that local officials were prepared to protect and help the displaced people.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said troops had established control over the villages of Bajwaniyah, Bajwaniyah al-Thalatha, Daraj, Bakr al-Oula, Bakr al-Thani, al-Mankoubah and al-Raflah and raised the national flag over buildings.
At dawn Thursday, militias assisting the Iraqi army closed in on villages near Bashiqa where the presence of Turkish troops has sparked a bitter dispute between the two countries.
Field commanders said the “large-scale operation,” launched at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) north and northeast of Mosul, was aimed at clearing nearby villages and securing control of strategic areas to further restrict Daesh movements.
US-made Daesh drone downed 
Two drones flown by Daesh above the battlefield were brought down. The French news agency AFP said its reporter identified one of the downed drones as the Raven RQ-11B developed for the US military.
The US has deployed special forces to the theater as part of a 5,000-strong contingent in Iraq, saying they were assisting in the effort to dislodge Daesh from Mosul.
On Tuesday, the Syrian government accused the United States of allowing Takfiri terrorists to flee Mosul to Syria.  
Iraqi forces launched their much-awaited offensive against Mosul on Monday, seeking to recapture the northern metropolis which has been held by Daesh since June 2014.
A high-ranking Iraqi general called upon Daesh terrorists to admit defeat and renounce violence amid reports that the Takfiri group was arbitrarily executing Mosul residents on suspicion of collaboration with the government.
Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati, commander of Iraqi Joint Operations Command, said the plan to retake the city “was going beyond expectations.”
“Our forces are advancing and have surrounded the city. The liberation of Mosul will be swift,” he told reporters on Wednesday. 

Commander of Iraqi Joint Operations Command, Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati, (Photo by AP)

“From this place, I appeal to all terrorists of Daesh to lay down weapons in order not to risk their lives so they can return to their families and cities,” he added. Shaghati said as many as 6,000 Daesh terrorists were inside the city.
Daesh leaders, their wives flee Mosul 
Iraq’s Arabic-language al-Sumaria television said Daesh has evacuated scores of the wives of senior commanders of the group from Mosul to militant-held cities in Syria, including Raqqah.
The report said they had been evacuated on the order of Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to avoid capture by security forces or rebellious residents in Mosul.
Speculation about the whereabouts of Baghdadi is also rife, with former Iraqi foreign ministry Hoshiyar Zebari saying he was still in Mosul.   
Commander of Federal Police Forces, Lieutenant General Raed Shaker Jawdat, said Iraqi security forces have cleansed 352 square kilometers of Daesh terrorists ever since the Mosul operation began on October 17.
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