Iraqi forces made new advances against ISIS in Mosul and fought the militants in areas near the Tigris river on Wednesday as the spokesman of the special forces spearheading the campaign said troops have retaken at least 80 percent of the city’s east.
The elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) pushed into east Mosul’s Sadeeq neighborhood, officers on the ground said.
A Reuters reporter said CTS forces were engaged in clashes in Sadeeq and were firing into neighboring Hadba, where their units had been fighting the day before.
Securing Hadba, Sadeeq and other nearby districts will allow the CTS to advance further towards the Tigris river that runs through the city, control of whose eastern bank will be crucial to launching attacks on western Mosul.
ISIS still holds all Mosul districts west of the river.
Forces also clashed with the militants further south, a military statement said, seeking to build on gains along the river bank, which they reached last week for the first time in the nearly 3-month campaign.
Tens of thousands of troops launched a huge offensive to retake Mosul, ISIS’ last major bastion in Iraq, and areas around it on October 17.
“I think you can say that we have retaken 80 to 85 percent” of the eastern side of Mosul, Sabah al-Noman, spokesman for CTS, told Agence France Presse in the city.
The initial phase of the offensive saw a variety of forces retake significant swathes of land in little time but the going has been tough inside the city itself.
After a lull in operations, the CTS and other forces stepped up their coordination and, with increased air and advisory support from a U.S.-led coalition, launched a fresh push just before the New Year.
A top Iraqi commander, Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati, told The Associated Press that the operation to retake Mosul from ISIS could be complete in three months or less.
“It’s possible” that Mosul will be liberated in that time frame, Shaghati said in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday evening.
However, he warned it is difficult to give an accurate estimate of how long the operation will take because it is not a conventional fight. “There are many variables,” he said, describing the combat as “guerrilla warfare.”
For the Mosul operation to continue, Shaghati said Iraqi forces need to continue to receive support and equipment from the U.S-led coalition.
Although Shaghati said he believes that the beginning of the Mosul operation marked the end of ISIS in Iraq, the country will likely struggle with terrorist threats long after the terrorist organization is defeated in Mosul.