Iraqis launch second phase of Mosul offensive

Iraqis launch second phase of Mosul offensive
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Iraqi forces on Thursday launched the second phase of their assault on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Mosul after a several-week lull in fighting.

“Today, with coalition air and artillery support, the Iraqi Security Forces announced that several elements of the Iraqi Army, Federal Police and Counter Terrorism Service initiated a simultaneous advance along three axes in Mosul to defeat ISIL,” the U.S.-led coalition said in a statement, using an alternate acronym for the terror group.

“The Iraqi multi-axis advance opens two new fronts within the city and increases pressure on ISIL's dwindling ability to generate forces, move fighters or resupply.”

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U.S. commanders have said U.S. forces will embed with Iraqi forces closer to the front line in this new phase, though they will remain behind the front line.

The offensive to retake Mosul began in October and saw elite Iraqi counterterrorism forces quickly push into the city limits from the east. Iraqi forces have yet to penetrate the western section of the city.

While officials had hoped to retake Mosul by the end of the year, advancements slowed in recent weeks as forces pushed into urban areas with more potential for civilian casualties and took a planned pause to recuperate after suffering heavy losses.

Thursday’s fresh push saw the 16th Division of the Iraqi Army advancing from the north axis, while Federal Police began clearing neighborhoods in the south axis, according to the statement. On the east axis, Counter Terrorism Service units pushed further into the city.

"At 0700 this morning the three fronts began advancing towards the city center,” Lt. Gen. Ali Freiji, who was overseeing army operations in the north, told Reuters. “The operation is ongoing today and tomorrow and until we liberate the eastern side of the city completely.”

In advanced of the new assault, coalition airstrikes Monday took out the last remaining bridge crossing the Tigris River, which bisects the city. The coalition also re-struck two other bridges Tuesday.

“The strikes were conducted to reduce enemy freedom of movement, and to further disrupt ISIL's ability to reinforce, resupply or use vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices in East Mosul,” the coalition said.

The United Nations has expressed concern that destroying the bridges could hinder the evacuation of civilians, with as many as 1.5 million thought to still be inside the city.

Iraqi officials have advised civilians to stay in their homes rather than attempt to flee and risk being killed in the process. Still, more than 114,000 have fled so far, according to the U.N.

Mosul is the last major Iraqi city under ISIS’s control, and retaking it would be a major blow to the terrorist group. 

But ISIS would still hold pockets of territory in the country. U.S. officials have also said they expect ISIS to continue operating as an insurgency once it loses its territory, as well as to continue to plan and inspire attacks on the West.