Mosul: Iraqi forces gaining momentum

US Army Lieutenant-General Steve Townsend said coordination had been largely absent in the first two months of the campaign

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Iraqi army and security forces are working better together in their battle against ISIS militants and are gaining momentum in the 11-week campaign to retake Mosul, the commander of the US-led coalition backing them said on Wednesday.

During a helicopter tour over recently recaptured areas, US Army Lieutenant-General Steve Townsend said coordination had been largely absent in the first two months of the campaign, when Iraqi forces made slow progress after breaching the city.

Elite counter-terrorism troops entered Mosul from the east and seized a quarter of the city but troops on other fronts stalled, leading to a military pause last month. Since resuming the offensive last week, the counter-terrorism service, rapid response division and federal police have retaken several eastern districts - despite fierce resistance - and joined flanks in areas that had been vulnerable to attack.

Townsend said Iraqi commanders, with guidance from the coalition, decided two weeks ago that the various pro-government forces would have to coordinate much more closely.

“For about two months ... what we saw is that there wasn’t enough synchronization between each of the different attacking axes and forces,” he told Reuters after visiting US troops and talking to Iraqi commanders at a coalition outpost north of Mosul. “Right before Christmas was a decision to huddle a lot more frequently, so they’re doing that more.”

Townsend said the top Iraqi commanders now all come together every few days - something the US military does daily wherever it operates. “Before... we were seeing progress mostly on one main axis and halting progress on the others. Now we're actually seeing forward movement on all of the axes in eastern Mosul,” he said.

Iraqis fleeing Mosul

More than 2,000 Iraqis a day are fleeing Mosul, several hundred more each day than before US-led coalition forces began a new phase of their battle to retake the city from ISIS, the United Nations said on Wednesday. After quick initial advances, the operation stalled for several weeks but last Thursday Iraqi forces renewed their push from Mosul’s east towards the Tigris River on three fronts.

Elite interior ministry troops were clearing the Mithaq district on Wednesday, after entering it on Tuesday when counterterrorism forces also retook an industrial zone. Federal police advanced in the Wahda district, the military said on Wednesday, in the 12th week of Iraq's largest military campaign since the US-led invasion of 2003.

(With Reuters inputs)