WARDAK (Iraq) • Kurdish Peshmerga forces launched a fresh attack on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants early yesterday as part of a campaign to capture Mosul, a Kurdish official said.
Mosul is the terror group's de facto capital in Iraq.
The advance began after heavy shelling and United States-led coalition air strikes. The militants were fighting back, firing mortars at the advancing troops and detonating at least one car bomb. Clouds of black smoke rose from the area.
Meanwhile, in an attack against ISIS on another front, six long- range Russian bombers yesterday destroyed the terror group's weapon stores around the ISIS stronghold of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, the defence ministry in Moscow said. Around Mosul, the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdish self-rule region are gradually taking up positions around the city, 400km north of Baghdad.
It was from Mosul's Grand Mosque in 2014 that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a "caliphate" spanning regions of Iraq and Syria.
Mosul is the largest urban centre under the militants' control, and had a pre-war population of nearly two million.
Its fall would mark the effective defeat of ISIS in Iraq, according to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has said he aims to retake the city this year.
Last week, the Libyan city of Sirte - held by ISIS for more than a year - fell to pro-government militiamen, and the militants lost the headquarters from which they had ruled more than 240km of Libyan coastline.
And last week too, ISIS militants were forced out of the city of Manbij near the Turkish border by a US-backed Arab-Kurdish alliance in a blow the Pentagon said showed the extremists were "on the ropes".
The operation to retake Mosul that started yesterday is part of the preparations for an offensive on the city itself, said a Kurdish official who declined to be identified.
The Iraqi army is trying to advance from the south. In July, it captured the Qayyara airfield, 60km south of Mosul, which will serve as the main staging post for the expected offensive.
In Deir Ezzor, the Russian defence minister said, Russian Tupolev bombers had carried out raids to the south-west, east and north-east of the city, wiping out two command posts, six arms depots, ISIS vehicles and "a large number of fighters".
ISIS controls large parts of Deir Ezzor city and most of oil-rich Deir Ezzor province in the east of the country, and has battled Syrian regime forces for control of a key military airbase there.
Meanwhile, the Libyan authorities have warned Italy about an ISIS cell based in the Milan area with links to one of its battle-hardened veterans, Italian media reported yesterday.
The existence of the network was reportedly revealed by documents seized by Libyan agents after government forces took over the ISIS headquarters in Sirte last week.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE