Iraq launches 'preparatory offensive' to retake Mosul
The Iraqi military backed by US-led coalition aircraft on Thursday launched a long-awaited operation to recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants, a military spokesman said.
In the push, Iraqi forces retook several villages on the outskirts of the town of Makhmour, east of Mosul, early in the morning on Thursday and hoisted the Iraqi flag there, according to the spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool.
"US artillery flattened IS strongholds in those villages before and during the operation," Lt. Col. Salah Khaled, member of the Iraqi army's 15th division, told The New Arab.
According to tribal leader Mohammad al-Shamari, Thursday's operation aims to pave the way for the battle to liberate Mosul.
"The battles to liberate the sourthern villages will be followed by the liberation of the entire province," he told The New Arab.
It was not immediately clear how long such a complex and taxing offensive would take. Only recently, Iraqi and US officials refrained to give a specific time on when the Mosul operation could begin, saying it would take many months to prepare Iraq's still struggling military for the long-anticipated task of retaking the key city.
Some US and Iraqi officials have said it may not even be possible to retake it this year, despite repeated vows by Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.
|Iraqi state-run TV interrupted its morning program Thursday with a series of news alerts announcing the operation and broadcasting patriotic songs and flag-waving video clips.|
Iraqi state-run TV interrupted its morning program Thursday with a series of news alerts announcing the operation and broadcasting patriotic songs and flag-waving video clips.
Rasool told The Associated Press that the US-led international coalition was providing air support but would not divulge more details on the offensive, which he said was dubbed "Operation Conquest."
Mosul - Iraq's second-largest city - fell to Islamic State group during the militants' June 2014 onslaught that captured large swaths of northern and western Iraq and also neighboring Syria. Mosul, located about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, became also the largest city in the Islamic State group's self-declared caliphate on the territories the militants control.
Rasool's declaration came only few days after the United States announced that it has set up a small Marine artillery outpost in northern Iraq to protect a nearby Iraqi military base in Makhour.
On Saturday, Iraqi forces launched a major offensive to liberate the cities of Hit and Kubaysa.
The two cities, 90miles (145km) from the capital, have been under IS control since the militants overran the area in October 2014.