Battle to retake Mosul from ISIS ‘will be difficult’
Iraqi special forces say ISIS has 5,000 to 6,000 fighters inside Mosul
ISIS has 5,000 to 6,000 fighters in Mosul: Iraqi army
ISIS has 5,000 to 6,000 fighters defending the city of Mosul against an offensive by Iraqi forces, the head of Iraq’s special forces Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati said on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Monday announced the start of an offensive on the northern city, the last major stronghold of the militants in Iraq, with the backing of a US-led coalition.
“Intelligence information indicates that there are 5,000 to 6,000 ISIS fighters,” Shaghati told a news conference near Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region east of Mosul.
Putin in talks on Mosul with Turkish, Iraqi leaders: Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone with the leaders of Turkey and Iraq about battle for Mosul, where Iraqi forces are fighting to oust ISIS, the Kremlin said Wednesday.
Putin “wished the Iraqi army and its allies complete success in their objectives,” the Kremlin said in a statement on his conversations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
He also informed the Iraqi leader about the “measures taken by Russia to defuse the situation” in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Moscow announced on Tuesday that Russian and Syrian air forces had stopped bombing Aleppo ahead of an eight-hour “humanitarian pause” in the battered city on Thursday.
Putin is to attend a summit on Syria in Berlin later Wednesday with the leaders of France and Germany.
In a separate conversation, Putin also discussed the battle for Mosul with Erdogan, the Kremlin said, but gave no further details.
The long-awaited offensive against Iraq’s second city began Monday with air and ground support from a US-led coalition.
Turkey said Tuesday it will continue to take part in the air operation after Ankara agreed a deal with its coalition partners.
Plans for the offensive were marked by tensions between Iraq and Turkey, which insisted on being part of the operation despite objections from Baghdad.
Christians celebrate as forces enter town near Mosul
Hundreds of displaced Iraqi Christians on Tuesday danced and sang to celebrate an Iraqi military operation to retake their community’s main hub of Qaraqosh from militants.
Iraqi Christian men, women and children – some of them holding candles – gathered at Mar Shimon church in the Kurdish capital of Arbil to pray and celebrate, an AFP correspondent reported.
Iraqi federal forces on Tuesday moved deep into Qaraqosh, a town that lies around 15 kilometers southeast of Mosul and was seized by ISIS militants in August 2014.
Qaraqosh had a population of around 50,000 people prior to an August 2014 offensive across the Nineveh Plain east of Mosul that forced almost every resident to flee. The overwhelming majority of Qaraqosh residents were Christians, making it the largest Christian town in Iraq.
Earlier, the pace of operations slowed on Tuesday as Iraqi forces began pushing toward larger villages and encountering civilian populations during the end of the second day of a massive operation to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS.
Reports of explosives and booby traps slowed down allied troops as the spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting ISIS Col. John Dorrian warned the ongoing battle to restore the city “will be difficult”.
More than 25,000 troops have mobilized for the Mosul fight, a massive operation that's expected to take weeks, if not months.
To compound the operations, ISIS were reportedly barring civilians from leaving Mosul and using them as human shields.
“We know they are being used as human shields, absolutely,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.
Up to five months leading up to the operations, sources told Al Arabiya News Channel that nearly 100,000 civilians were able to escape Mosul.
Reports suggest nearly 1.5 million people are still trapped under an ISIS siege.
“Right now, cities nearby are expected to host 60,000 refugees as temporary tents and shelters are being set up,” Norwegian Refugee Council consultant Sarah Kilani told Al Arabiya News Channel.
“For humanitarian aid there are two top priorities right now. First, to guarantee safe exit routes for civilians. Second, we have to focus on guaranteeing enough funding so adequate humanitarian aid can be given to refugees,” she added.