ATHBAH: Iraqi forces on Friday entered a west Mosul neighbourhood for the first time since the October launch of a massive offensive to retake the city from the Islamic State group.
The push on al Maamun, a small neighbourhood on the southwestern edge of Mosul, came after government troops retook the airport, which commands access to the city from the south, and a nearby military base.
The militants have been on the back foot in both Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
“We have attacked and fully control Ghazlani base, we have also taken Tal al Rayyan... and we're attacking al Maamun neighbourhood,” said Sami al Aridhi, a lieutenant general in Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service.
He told AFP near the front line that IS militants attacked his forces with a suicide car bomb in Tal al Rayyan, a village just outside Mosul, and that three other car bombs were found there.
Aridhi said the CTS, the most-seasoned force in Iraq, had suffered no losses since the renewed push on west Mosul was launched on Sunday.
He said some fighters had been wounded, however, including by the weaponised drones IS has increasingly resorted to in recent weeks.
AFP reporters south of Mosul said heavy artillery and mortar fire could be heard coming from the southern edge of the city while jets also conducted strikes.
While it was not immediately clear whether CTS forces would seek to push deep into the city, the move marks another landmark in the protracted Mosul operation.
The CTS spearheaded the weeks-long effort to retake areas of the city on the east bank of the Tigris River, only fully liberating it last month.
They met fierce resistance from militants defending their last major stronghold in Iraq and commanders have warned that the west bank, where IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi proclaimed his caliphate, would be even tougher.
After weeks spent redeploying across the vast theatre of operations, Iraqi forces rekindled the offensive on Sunday, with the airport the initial target.
“I can confirm that the airport is fully liberated,” said Brigadier General Abbas al Juburi, of the interior ministry’s elite Rapid Response units that led the assault.
IS militants offered limited resistance at the airport and the nearby Ghazlani base, open and uninhabited areas that are difficult for them to defend in the face of the huge firepower deployed by Baghdad and its allies.
But the west bank of Mosul includes the Old City, whose narrow streets will be impassable for some military vehicles and oblige Iraqi forces to stage perilous dismounted raids. The militants are completely surrounded in west Mosul and have little choice but to fight to the death.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2017.