MOSUL, IRAQ: Iraqi special forces said they recaptured six districts of eastern Mosul on Friday, expanding the army’s foothold in Daesh bastion a day after its leader told his followers there could be no retreat.
An officer in the elite Counter Terrorism Service, which has spearheaded the Mosul offensive, said troops had launched a major operation against the militants who are now almost surrounded in their last major urban redoubt in Iraq.
CTS special forces took over Malayeen, Samah, Khadra, Karkukli, Quds and Karama districts, the army said.
“This is something very big – it means large parts of the left bank have been liberated,” CTS commander Lieutenant-General Talib Shaghati said, referring to the half of Mosul which lies on the east bank of the Tigris.
However, a resident of one district which the army declared recaptured told Reuters after the announcement that clashes continued.
“It’s true urban warfare,” he said by telephone. “My children haven’t slept for two days… Bullets and shells are coming from everywhere.”
In the neighbourhood of Intisar, still fiercely contested by the army and militants, a Reuters correspondent heard heavy gunfire and explosions. Black smoke rose from an area nearby and damaged buildings showed signs of combat.
The territory taken by the government still amounts to just a fraction of the sprawling city, which is divided into dozens of residential and industrial districts and was home to 2 million people before it was captured by Islamic State in 2014.
The battle to drive the fighters out is the biggest ground operation in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003, and is likely to decide the fate of the self-proclaimed Daesh caliphate that has defied the world for two years.
Iraqi officers and those from a U.S.-led coalition providing air and ground support to the offensive say progress has been faster than expected but stress that the operation is still in its early stages.