Iraqi forces have retaken around 70 percent of eastern Mosul from ISIS and expect to reach the river bisecting the northern city in the coming days, Iraq’s joint operations commander has said.
Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati, who is also head of the elite counter-terrorism service (CTS) spearheading the campaign to retake the city, told Reuters the cooperation of residents was helping them advance against ISIS.
In its 12th week, the offensive has gained momentum since Iraqi forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition renewed their push for the city a week ago, clearing several more eastern districts despite fierce resistance.
“Roughly 65-70 percent of the eastern side has been liberated,” Shaghati said in an interview late on Wednesday in the Kurdish capital of Erbil. “I think in the coming few days we will see the full liberation of the eastern side.”
The western half of the city remains under the full control of ISIS, which is fighting to hold on to its largest urban stronghold with snipers and suicide car bombs numbering “in the hundreds” according to Shaghati.
The Mosul assault involves a 100,000-strong ground force of Iraqi government troops, members of the autonomous Kurdish security forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces.
The commander of a U.S.-led coalition backing the Iraqi offensive told Reuters on Wednesday that increased momentum was due largely to better coordination among the army and security forces.
He said the Iraqis had improved their ability to defend against ISIS car bombs.
Although vastly outnumbered, the militants have used the urban terrain to their advantage, concealing car bombs in narrow alleys, posting snipers on tall buildings with civilians on lower floors and making tunnels and surface-level passageways between buildings.
They have also embedded themselves among the local population.
In their fight to liberated areas that fall under the control of the terrorist organization, Iraqi forces on Thursday launched an offensive aimed at retaking towns still under the control of ISIS in western areas near the border with Syria, commanders said.
“A military operation has begun in the western areas of Anbar to liberate them from Daesh,” said Lieutenant General Qassem Mohammedi, commander of the Jazeera Operations Command, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
He said the operation was led by the army’s 7th division, police, and fighters from local tribes that have opposed the jihadists, with aerial backing from the U.S.-led coalition.
The main targets of the operation are Aanah, Rawa and Al-Qaim, the westernmost Iraqi towns along the Euphrates Valley.