EAST OF MOSUL • An elite Iraqi army unit advanced towards the built-up area of the ISIS stronghold of Mosul yesterday, after two weeks of fighting to clear surrounding areas of the insurgents.
The troops entered the Karama district of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) stronghold, their first advance into the city itself.
An officer also told a Reuters correspondent just east of Mosul yesterday that troops from the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) were moving in on Gogjali, an industrial zone on Mosul's eastern outskirts, and could enter it later in the day.
The zone lies about 1km from the administrative border of Mosul.
"The operation to liberate the left bank of Mosul has started," a military statement said, referring to the eastern bank of the river that flows from north to south.
The CTS unit, which made gains quicker than forces on other fronts, resumed the offensive on the eastern front after it had paused its advance last week to allow the other forces to close the gap and get nearer to the city.
IMPACT OF ISIS TACTICS
Scorched-earth tactics employed by retreating (ISIS) members are having an immediate health impact on civilians, and risk long-term environmental and health consequences.
UN OFFICE FOR THE COORDINATION OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS
Other military statements said five villages were taken north of Mosul, where Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are also being deployed, while army units advanced in the south.
Pro-Iranian Iraqi Shi'ite militias joined the fighting last Saturday, aiming to cut the route between Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS' main stronghold in Syria.
The CTS will hold its advance in Karama until the forces on the other fronts advance "to protect their back", General Wissam Araji said in Bazwaia, a village which was retaken from ISIS earlier in the day, at the edge of the city's eastern suburb.
The capture of Mosul would mark the militants' effective defeat in the Iraqi half of the caliphate that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared two years ago from the city's Grand Mosque.
It is still home to 1.5 million residents, making it four or five times bigger than any other city seized by ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.
Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters started the offensive on Oct 17, with air and ground support from the United States-led coalition, against the hardline Sunni group.
ISIS militants have been fighting off the offensive with suicide car bombs, snipers and mortar fire.
They have also set oil wells on fire to cover their movements and displaced thousands of civilians from villages towards Mosul, using them as "human shields", United Nations officials and villagers have said.
"Scorched-earth tactics employed by retreating (ISIS) members are having an immediate health impact on civilians, and risk long-term environmental and health consequences," the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
UN forecasts see up to one million people being uprooted by the fighting, which UN aid agencies said had so far forced about 17,500 people to flee - a figure that excludes those taken into Mosul by the retreating militants.