Iraq army’s elite unit stopped a week-long advance on Mosul as it approached the city’s eastern edge on Tuesday, waiting for other U.S.-backed forces to close in on ISIS’ last major urban stronghold in Iraq.
On the ninth day of the offensive on Mosul, government forces and allied Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are still fighting their way towards the outer limits of the northern city, in the early stages of an assault which could become the biggest military operation in Iraq in over a decade.
The first force to get near to Mosul, advancing to within two kilometers of Iraq’s second largest city, was the elite U.S.-trained Counter Terrorism Service (CTS).
CTS troops have moved in from the east, extracting ISIS from a Christian region that has been empty of residents since the terror took it over in 2014.
The combat ahead is likely to be more difficult and deadly because of the presence of civilians. Some 1.5 million residents remain in the city and worst-case forecasts see up to a million being uprooted, according to the United Nations.
U.N. aid agencies said the fighting has so far forced about 9,000 to flee their homes. But Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, told Reuters that the United Nations expects a mass exodus from Mosul, perhaps within the next few days.
In the worst case scenario, Grande said it was also possible that ISIS fighters who have controlled Mosul for more than two years could resort to “rudimentary chemical weapons” to hold back the impending assault.
U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said ISIS fighters have reportedly killed scores of people around Mosul in the last week.