The Iraqi government and military announced on Wednesday that it had advanced through previously ISIS-held northern villages on its way to an airfield which could possibly be the launching-ground for an offensive against terrorists overrunning Mosul.
Mosul is considered Iraq’s largest northern city and the largest city included in ISIS’ self-proclaimed caliphate. ISIS had declared Mosul its headquarters in Iraq.
A senior commander told reporters that the army and elite counter-extremism forces regained control on Tuesday over Telol al-Baj area, located approximately 260 km north of the capital Baghdad on the main north-south road.
The commander also said that U.S.-led airstrikes have helped repel suicide car bomb attacks. Both sides have suffered casualties, but most militants have fled into the desert.
Iraq launched an offensive against ISIS on June 18, the day after regaining control over Fallujah, west of Baghdad, to recapture the southern part of Mosul and the town of Qayara.
“The operation aims to recapture Qayara, which is an important area due to the presence of a military base there,” Army Officer Lt. Gen. Mohamed al-Askari told Anadolu last week.
Army officials said that troops have now advanced around 45 km from Qayara’s airbase, about two weeks after setting out from Baiji, a refinery town. The military’s plan to recover another refinery around Qayara with a production capacity of 16,000 barrels per day may negatively affect ISIS’s finances as well.
The army recapturing Fallujah this month boosted morale in the offensive’s aim to ultimately recover Mosul entirely.
The U.S. government applauded the recovery of Fallujah from the terrorist organisation. Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s special envoy in the fight against ISIS, told a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday that “planning is now underway”, referring to a campaign for liberating Mosul ISIS upper-hand. “Mosul will be a significant military challenge but also a political, diplomatic and humanitarian challenge,” McGurk added.
Iraqi Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi vowed to recover Mosul within 2016.
Iraqi forces in the western region of al-Anbar also regained control over the areas Albu Alwan and Halabisa, situated west of Baghdad; the national flag was officially raised in these territories.
However, military troops separately pressing forward on the eastern side of the Tigris river from Qayara have made slower progress. They have only regained a few ISIS-held villages since they set out over three months ago from Makhmour.
A military force said that ISIS locations in Haj Ali were shelled on Wednesday by Iraqi forces to get ready for a ground offensive that would enable them to reach the river bank and meet the forces from the south near the air base, approximately 10km west of the river.
According the United Nations, the offensives against ISIS have led to thousands being displaced in Iraq – over half of them children – and the United Nations expect several thousand more to flee in the days to come.
A United Nations official has said that they expect future offensives, including the one on Mosul, to displace at least 2.3 million civilians.