BAGHDAD/ERBIL • Iraqi special forces have recaptured six districts of eastern Mosul, the military said yesterday, expanding the army's foothold in the ISIS stronghold a day after the militant group's leader told his followers there could be no retreat.
An officer in Iraq's elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) said yesterday that troops had launched a major operation against the militants, who are now almost surrounded in their last major urban redoubt in Iraq.
CTS special forces had taken over the districts of Malayeen, Samah, Khadra, Karkukli, Quds and Karama, the military said, inflicting heavy losses on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters and raising the Iraqi flag over buildings.
One CTS officer said the forces might try to push all the way to the Tigris River, which runs through the centre of Mosul.
Iraqi television footage from the east of the city showed grey smoke rising, and a Reuters reporter in the village of Ali Rash, 7km to the south-east, heard helicopter gunships and cannon fire. Volleys of automatic rifle fire, possibly from the militants, were also audible.
Number of bomb-laden cars that the Iraqi military says it has blown up, in a sign of the fierce resistance that soldiers have encountered since entering Mosul on Monday.
Number of people who have been displaced since the start of the Mosul campaign, says the UN.
A senior officer in the village said that Iraqi troops had also taken two-thirds of another Mosul district, Intisar, in the same eastern section of the city. ISIS fighters "are trying to get away", said Lieutenant-General Qassem Jassim Nazzal.
In a sign of the fierce resistance that soldiers have encountered since entering the city on Monday, Lt-Gen Nazzal said the troops had blown up six bomb-laden cars and killed two suicide bombers and 30 other people.
In Ali Rash village, retaken by Iraqi forces sweeping towards Mosul from the south and the east, the bloated and blackened bodies of three ISIS fighters, dressed in khaki trousers and military boots, were left out in the open. "They're criminals, let the dogs eat them," one officer said.
Iraqi regular troops and special forces, Shi'ite militias, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and other groups backed by US-led air strikes launched their campaign to retake Mosul nearly three weeks ago.
Winning back the city would crush the Iraqi half of a cross-border caliphate declared by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from a Mosul mosque two years ago.
ISIS also holds large parts of neighbouring Syria, but Mosul is by far the largest city under control of the ultra-hardline militants in either country, and the campaign to retake it is the most complex in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein.
In a speech released on Thursday, Baghdadi, whose whereabouts are unknown, said there could be no retreat in a"total war" against the forces arrayed against ISIS, telling fighters they must remain loyal to their commanders.
Mosul is still home to nearly 1.5 million people, who risk being caught up in brutal urban warfare. The United Nations says 22,000 people have been displaced since the start of the Mosul campaign.