Elite Iraqi security forces advanced deeper into the first neighborhood in western Mosul on Friday and recaptured the international airport on the city’s southwestern edge from the ISIS group, according to Iraqi officials.
The gains came one day after launching attacks on several fronts towards ISIS’ last main stronghold in the city, as troops entered a west Mosul neighborhood for the first time since the start four months ago of the offensive to retake the city.
Earlier on Friday, spokesman of the Joint Military Operation Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool said counter-terrorism forces managed to fully control the Ghozlani army base, pushing deeper towards the southwestern districts of Tal al-Rumman and al-Mamoun, a military spokesman said.
Federal police and an elite Interior Ministry unit known as Rapid Response are clearing the airport of roadside bombs and booby traps left by ISIS militants who retreated from their positions there on Thursday.
Iraqi government forces plan to repair the airport and use it as a base from which to drive the militants from Mosul’s western districts. The United Nations estimated that about 750,000 civilians are trapped in western Mosul. The initial numbers of displaced from western Mosul have been low, but Iraqi forces are yet to punch into the city’s dense urban neighborhoods.
Government forces pushed the insurgents out of eastern Mosul last month but the ISIS still holds the western sector of the city, divided by the Tigris River.
“Our forces are fighting Daesh terrorists in Tal al-Rumman and al-Mamoun. We will eliminate them soon and take control over the two districts,” Counter Terrorism Services (CTS) spokesman Sabah al-Numan said.
ISIS militants used suicide car bomb attacks and drones carrying small bombs to disrupt the CTS units from further advancing.
“There is a resistance there. The drones are particularly annoying today,” Major General Sami al-Aridi, a senior CTS commander, told Reuters in the southwestern front of Mosul.
Rapid response forces are trying to advance beyond the airport to breach ISIS defenses around districts on the southern edge of Mosul.
“We are now fighting Daesh at the southern edge of the city. We are trying to breach trenches and high berm they used as defensive line,” Colonel Falah al-Wabdan told Reuters.
Losing Mosul could spell the end of the Iraqi section of the militants’ self-styled caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria.
Iraqi commanders expect the battle in western Mosul to be the most trying yet, however, in part because tanks and armored vehicles cannot pass through narrow alleyways that crisscross the city’s ancient western districts.