Iraqi forces are “advancing faster than expected” in a major offensive to recapture Mosul from ISIS militants, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Thursday.
“We are advancing faster than we had expected and planned,” Abadi said, speaking on a videoconference link to an international meeting co-hosted by France and Iraq on the future of Iraq's second city following the start of the offensive this week.
A Kurdish official in northeastern Syria said that thousands of Iraqis fleeing the fighting in the offensive against ISIS in Mosul and arrived in the region in recent days.
The official added that the displaced people who are Arabs, mostly women, children and elderly people have crossed the border since October 16 and are currently staying in a refugee camp in the Hasaka province.
Iraqi special forces join Mosul offensive
Iraqi special forces joined the Mosul offensive on Thursday with a pre-dawn advance on a nearby town held by ISIS, encountering heavy fire.
Gen. Maan al-Saadi said the elite Counterterrorism Forces advanced on the town of Bartalla with the aid of US-led coalition airstrikes and heavy artillery on the fourth day of a massive operation to retake Iraq’s second-largest city.
The special forces are expected to lead the way into Mosul, where they will face fierce resistance in an urban landscape where ISIS militants are preparing for a climactic battle.
The offensive is the largest operation launched by Iraqi forces since the 2003 US-led invasion. It is expected to take weeks, if not months.
The Kurdish forces known as Peshmerga, who are also taking part in the offensive, announced a “large-scale operation” to the north and northeast of Mosul on Thursday.
“The operation will be in three fronts,” the Peshmerga said in a statement, and follows recent gains by the Peshmerga to the east of Mosul and Iraqi security forces to the south.
Amer al-Jabbar, a 30-year-old soldier with the Iraqi special forces, said he was happy to be taking part in the attack and hoped to avenge two brothers killed while fighting for the Iraqi security forces.
“I had one brother who became a martyr in 2007 and another who became a martyr in 2014,” he said. “I want to avenge them and I’m ready to die.”
An intense gun battle erupted as the convoy of some 1,000 special forces made its way toward Bartalla. The troops were around 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Mosul.
(With AP)SHOW MORE