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Iraqi forces recapture ISIS-held airport and military base in western Mosul

Iraqi forces recapture ISIS-held airport and military base in western Mosul

Iraqi forces made significant gains Friday in their mission to retake Mosul, taking back total control of the city’s airport as well as the Ghazlani military camp. Having already captured the eastern part of the city, Iraqi forces are now focusing their efforts on retaking the west, where entrenched Islamic State fighters remain well-armed. The terrorist organization is trying to hold onto its last major urban stronghold in Iraq.

Iraqi forces, backed by coalition forces and U.S. air support, pushed into Mosul’s western Mamun neighborhood on Friday, where they were immediately met with intense gunfire from ISIS militants. One captain in Iraq’s emergency response division told the BBC inside western Mosul: “We’re very close to liberating Mosul.”

That is not a view shared by many analysts. They believe the physical layout of the western part of the city — which includes narrow, winding streets — will require a prolonged, brutal battle to banish ISIS once and for all.

After significant gains at the airport on Thursday, a spokesman for Joint Military Operation Command said on Friday that the airfield had been fully recaptured. The Ghazlani military camp on the outskirts of southwestern Mosul also was recaptured — Iraqi flags could be seen flying on top of the buildings. The Joint Military Operation Command said there were many ISIS casualties during the attacks.

Together these two strategic locations will act as a base for Iraqi forces as they continue the latest, and potentially decisive, phase of driving ISIS out of Mosul. Total victory likely remains months away.

Here’s what you need to know about the battle for Mosul:

  • The effort to retake Mosul from ISIS began in October. It took more than 100 days for Iraqi and coalition forces to “fully liberate” the eastern half of the city — not without significant casualties. According to General Joseph Votel, the head of the United States Central Command, about 500 Iraqi military personnel died in the offensive and another 3,000 were injured.
  • In the latest push to retake the city, which kicked off on Sunday, Iraqi forces have attacked ISIS locations in western Mosul on three fronts. The federal police seized the town of Albu Saif, which overlooks the airport. Iraq’s premier fighting force, the counterterrorism service, joined the assault on Thursday and committed all 14 of its fighting battalions to capturing the former Ghazlani military base. An Iraqi army tank unit is closing in on ISIS locations to the west of the city.
  • Mosul, which fell to the Islamic State group in June 2014, is split by the Tigris River. Residents typically navigate between the city’s two sides using bridges, but these have now all been destroyed — initially by coalition forces and subsequently by ISIS fighters — making it more challenging for the Iraqi forces to complete the recapture of the city.
  • The western offensive also will face challenges in the narrow and winding streets that are not conducive to heavy, armored vehicles. Iraqi forces will likely need to engage in close quarter combat, going house to house in order to finally push ISIS fighters out of the city. Officials estimate there are still between 4,000 and 6,000 ISIS fighters in Mosul.
  • American and French air support has helped the Iraqi forces push into western Mosul. Ahead of the renewed push this week, American bombing raids targeted known ISIS buildings in the city, including a five-story building in the Al Jumhuri medical complex that intelligence officials believe operated as an IS command center. During the advances on Thursday, the U.S. deployed armed drones as well as Apache attack helicopters to bolster Iraqi forces.
  • The United Nations has warned that as many as 800,000 civilians remain in west Mosul and that food and other supplies are running out. “The situation is distressing. People, right now, are in trouble. We are hearing reports of parents struggling to feed their children and to heat their homes,” Lise Grande, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said before the latest offensive began. ISIS has previously threatened to kill any of the estimated 350,000 children still in Mosul if they try to flee the city. 

Cover: (REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)

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