Mosul: Iraqi forces said on Monday they had taken more territory from Daesh as they press an offensive that has seen them recapture a third of west Mosul and trap militants inside.
A renewed push launched on March 5 has forced Daesh out of several neighbourhoods and key sites, including the main local government headquarters and the famed Mosul museum, tightening the noose around fighters there.
West Mosul is the most-populated urban area still held by the militants, followed by Syria’s Raqqa, which is also a key target in the US-led anti-Daesh campaign.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command announced additional gains on Monday, saying that forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service had recaptured west Mosul’s Al Nafat neighbourhood.
Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat said that forces from the Rapid Response Division, another special forces unit, and the federal police were working to search and clear territory on the edge of Mosul’s Old City.
The forces are conducting “combing and search operations in the liberated areas of Bab Al Toub, searching for traps and mines and terrorists hiding among the people,” Jawdat said in a statement.
Mosul’s Old City — a warren of narrow streets and closely spaced buildings where hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to still reside — could see some of the toughest fighting of the campaign to retake Iraq’s second city.
While CTS and Rapid Response are spearheading the advance inside Mosul, Iraqi army forces and pro-government paramilitaries are fighting Daesh to the west.
Soldiers from the 9th Armoured Division scored a key victory on Saturday night when they cut the last road out of west Mosul, said Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the international anti-Daesh coalition.
“Any of the fighters who are left in Mosul, they’re going to die there, because they’re trapped,” McGurk told journalists in Baghdad.
“We are very committed to not just defeating them in Mosul, but making sure these guys cannot escape,” he said.
In practice, Daesh fighters may still be able to sneak in and out of the city in small numbers, but the lack of access to roads makes larger-scale movement and resupply more difficult, if not impossible.
“We now believe that we are killing so many of their fighters that they are not able to replace them. That was not the case even a year ago,” said McGurk, putting the toll for Daesh leaders at 180 dead.
In Syria the US-led coalition is backing an Arab-Kurdish alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces that is pushing towards the militants’ de facto capital Raqqa.
“Raqqa remains their (Daesh’s) administrative capital, it’s where we think a lot of their leaders are located, it’s where we think they are planning a lot of attacks around the world,” said McGurk.
Daesh clashed on Monday with the SDF on the north bank of the Euphrates River in Raqqa province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which did not provide a toll.
Eight civilians were among 19 people killed Sunday in suspected US-led air strikes four kilometres south of Raqqa, said the monitor.
Turkish-backed rebels are also advancing against Daesh in northern Syria, as are government troops supported by Russia.
The Observatory also reported fighting in eastern Aleppo province where the militants forced regime troops to fall back from the outskirts of the Jarrah military airport.
The monitor on Monday said that more than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria’s six year conflict, including 96,000 civilians.
And the United Nations children’s agency said on Monday that violence against Syrian children was “at its worst” last year, with the number of minors killed, maimed or recruited into armed groups in 2016 the “highest on record”.