Saturday 24 June 2017

Iraqi troops advance on western Mosul as Mattis holds talks

Smoke rises from the town of Abu Saif after air strikes hit Islamic State positions (AP/Bram Janssen)
Smoke rises from the town of Abu Saif after air strikes hit Islamic State positions (AP/Bram Janssen)

Iraqi forces have advanced into the southern outskirts of Mosul on the second day of a push to drive Islamic State militants from the western half of the city.

The push came as visiting US defence secretary Jim Mattis met with officials to discuss the fight against the extremists.

With aerial support from the US-led coalition, Iraqi police and army troops launched the offensive on Sunday, part of a 100-day campaign that has already driven the militants from the eastern half of the city.

Iraqi helicopters fired rockets at the village of Abu Saif early on Monday, targeting a hill that overlooks the city's airport. By noon, the forces entered the village and gained control over much of the strategic hill as fighting was still raging.

Separately, militarised police in armoured vehicles were moving towards the sprawling Ghazlani military base on the south-western outskirts of the city.

The US-led coalition has been providing close air support throughout the campaign to retake Iraq's second-largest city. US special operations forces are embedded with some Iraqi units and thousands of US troops are in Iraq providing logistical and other support.

Meanwhile, Mr Mattis was holding discussions with US and Iraqi officials, a week before he is expected to present a new strategy to President Donald Trump for defeating the Islamic State group.

"We're going to make certain that we've got good situational awareness of what we face as we work together and fight alongside each other," Mr Mattis said.

Mr Trump has repeatedly vowed to eliminate the extremist group but has provided few details about how his approach might differ from that of the Obama administration, which had partnered with Syrian and Iraqi forces to drive IS out of several towns and cities.

The battle for western Mosul, the extremist group's last major urban bastion in Iraq, is expected to be the most daunting yet.

The streets are older and narrower in that sector of the city, which stretches west from the Tigris River, forcing Iraqi soldiers to leave the relative safety of their armoured vehicles. The presence of up to 750,000 civilians also poses a challenge.

Two suicide car bombers struck army and paramilitary forces west of Mosul on Monday, killing and wounding a number of troops, two army officers said, without specifying the number of casualties.

A third suicide car bomber was blown up before reaching the troops, they said.

IS claimed responsibility for two attacks in an online statement, saying the attackers were British and Iraqi.

AP

Press Association

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