Reports: Iraq moves to retake Mosul from ISIS

Backed by the U.S.-led coalition, the Iraqi military says it has at last launched an offensive to recapture the key city of Mosul from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to reports, while Syria is simultaneously moving to retake Palmyra.

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The long-awaited Mosul offensive began Thursday, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rassool told The Associated Press, and involved retaking several villages on the outskirts of town and raising the Iraqi flag there.

"The Iraqis have announced an operation in Makhmur to liberate several villages in the vicinity. The coalition is supporting the operation with air power,” Rassool told USA Today. Makhmur is about 75 miles southeast of Mosul.

Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, fell to ISIS in June 2014. Officials have estimated that tens of thousands of troops would be needed to retake it, and some have expressed pessimism that the objective could be achieved before the end of the year.

The offensive comes after U.S. Marines set up a new artillery outpost in northern Iraq. The firebase has already been attacked by militants multiple times, and a Marine staff sergeant was killed on Saturday.

Meanwhile, in Syria, state TV said Thursday that government forces have begun to reclaim historic Palmyra, held by ISIS since last May.

The Syrian Observatory for Human rights says Syrian troops are facing stiff resistance pushing into the city’s eastern and southern edges, according to the AP.

Palmyra is famous for its ancient archeological sites, many of which have been destroyed by ISIS.