Peshmerga forces gain ground east of ISIS-held Mosul

The operation is expected to be one of many aimed at encircling Mosul, the last major ISIS urban stronghold in Iraq

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A small unit of Kurdish peshmerga forces huddled in an abandoned home on the edge of Qarqashah, one of a dozen villages east of the Iraqi city of Mosul that the peshmerga captured from ISIS this week.

The advance aims to lay the groundwork for the battle for Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which has been held by ISIS for more than two years.

Like almost all of the villages retaken this week, Qarqashah is small and was almost entirely empty of civilians. This allowed the US-led coalition to clear territory using air strikes, rather than relying on ground troops to engage in street-to-street battles. But peshmerga military leaders said their forces still took significant casualties.

In Qarqashah village alone, peshmerga commanders estimated they lost 10 men. Even after the operation was declared complete on Monday, fighting was ongoing.

Maj. Gen. Hama Rasheed sat on a plastic chair inside the simple home his men were using as a base. Outside, his fighters exchanged fire with IS militants holed up in a neighboring village.

Fields of dead grass burned from IS-launched mortar rounds. Kurdish and coalition forces stationed atop a nearby hill responded with volleys of artillery fire onto the IS fighters below.

“The main aim of the operation was to open a strategic road to the Christian areas of the Nineveh plain,” said Brig. Gen. Dedewan Khurshid Tofiq, one of the peshmerga commanders overseeing the operation. The Nineveh plain stretches north and east of Mosul.

Tofiq added that a bridge, taken on Monday and leading to southeastern Mosul, could facilitate a troop buildup along an eastern Mosul front once it is repaired.

The operation, which lasted just under 48 hours, is expected to be one of many operations aimed at encircling Mosul, the last major ISIS urban stronghold in Iraq.

The long battle for Mosul is continuing amid violence in much of the rest of the country. At least 15 people have been killed since Monday in a series of separate attacks across Iraq.