Kurdish forces retake town of Bashiqa near Mosul: Official

Smoke rises from the town of Bashiqa, near Mosul, during clashes between Kurdish forces and ISIS militants, on Nov 8, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

BASHIQA, IRAQ (AFP) - A top security official said on Tuesday (Nov 08) that Kurdish forces had recaptured Bashiqa from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, one of final steps in securing the eastern approaches to militant-held Mosul.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters launched an assault on Bashiqa the day before, advancing on the town from three sides as the battle to retake Mosul, the last ISIS-held Iraqi city, entered its fourth week.

The town is under "complete control", Jabbar Yawar, the secretary general of the Kurdish regional ministry responsible for the peshmerga, told the media by telephone.

An Agence France-Presse journalist on the outskirts of Bashiqa saw three air strikes hit the town on Tuesday and heard gunfire from inside it, along with an explosion that peshmerga fighters said was a suicide bombing.

"There is a part (of the town) with suicide bombers and snipers," said Colonel Dilshad Mawlud, a peshmerga media official.

"Today we are conducting clearing operations from house to house. The Daesh fighters are travelling inside tunnels," he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Forces from Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region are operating north and east of Mosul, but aside from the Bashiqa operation, federal forces have shouldered the bulk of the fighting in recent days.

The operation to retake Mosul was launched on October 17, with Iraqi forces advancing on the city from the north, east and south.

Special forces have battled IS inside eastern Mosul, while forces have also approached the city from the north, but those on the southern front, which had the longest way to go, have still not reached its outskirts.

ISIS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in June 2014, but has been on the defensive since last year, and Iraqi forces backed by US-led air support have regained much of the territory they lost to the militants.

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