Baghdad (IINA) � The US-backed Iraqi forces fought the terrorist group Daesh (the so-called ISIS) on Monday to clear the way to Mosul's airport, on the second day of a ground offensive on the militants' remaining stronghold in the western side of the city.
According to Reuters, federal police and elite interior ministry units known as Rapid Response are leading the charge toward the airport, located on the southern limit of Mosul, trying to dislodge the militants from the nearby hilltop village of Albu Saif.
The Iraqi forces' plan is to turn the airport into a close support base for the onslaught into western Mosul itself. ISIS militants are essentially under siege in western Mosul, along with an estimated 750,000 civilians, after they were forced out of the eastern part of the city in the first phase of an offensive that concluded last month, after 100 days of fighting.
Elite Counter-Terrorism Service units headed to frontlines around the western side of Mosul, a city that is divided into two halves by the Tigris River.
Helicopters were strafing the Albu Saif hill to clear it of snipers, while machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades could be heard. The advancing forces also disabled a car bomb used by the militants to obstruct attacking forces.
The Iraqi forces have been advancing so far in sparsely populated areas and there were no families seen escaping. The fighting will get tougher as they get nearer to the city itself and the risk greater for civilians.
Up to 400,000 civilians could be displaced by the offensive as residents of western Mosul suffer food and fuel shortages and markets are closed, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande told Reuters on Saturday.
Commanders expect the battle to be more difficult than in the east of the city because tanks and armored vehicles cannot pass through its narrow alleyways. Western Mosul contains the old city center, with its ancient souks, government administrative buildings, and the famous Grand Mosque.
Source: International Islamic News Agency