Mosul offensive going faster than planned, Iraqi PM says
BAGHDAD/PARISThe offensive to seize back Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is going faster than planned, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Oct. 20, as Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched a new military operation to clear villages on the city’s outskirts.
Howitzer and mortar fire started at dawn, hitting a group of villages held by ISIL about 10-20 km (6-12 miles) from Mosul, while helicopters flew overhead, according to Reuters reporters at two frontline locations north and east of Mosul.
To the sound of machine gun fire and explosions, dozens of black Humvees of the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), mounted with machine guns, headed towards Bartella, an abandoned Christian village just east of Mosul.
Militants were using suicide car-bombs, roadside bombs and snipers to resist the attack, and were pounding surrounding areas with mortars, a CTS commander said.
Hours later, the head of Iraq’s Special Forces, Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati, told reporters at a command center near the frontline that troops had surrounded Bartella and entered the center of the village. Two soldiers were hurt and none killed, and they had killed at least 15 militants, he said.
“After Bartella is Mosul, God willing.”
Al-Abadi, addressing anti-ISIL coalition allies meeting in Paris by a video link, said: “The forces are pushing towards the town more quickly than we thought and more quickly than we had programmed.”
A U.S.-led coalition that includes France, Italy, Britain, Canada and other Western nations is providing air and ground support to the forces that are closing in on the city in an operation that began on Oct. 17.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said controls were being put in place to check jihadists were not trying to insert themselves among those fleeing Mosul.
On the northern front, Kurdish peshmerga forces shot down a small drone that had flown over from ISIL lines. It was not clear if the drone, 1 to 2 meters (yards) wide, was carrying explosives or being used for reconnaissance.
“There have been times when they dropped explosives,” said Halgurd Hasan, one of the Kurdish fighters deployed in a position overlooking the plain north of Mosul.