MOSUL, Iraq: Iraqi forces seized a third of west Mosul and trapped Daesh (ISIS) fighters inside as they made further gains in their battle to retake the city, officials said Sunday. Fierce fighting has shaken Mosul in recent days as thousands of U.S.-backed Iraqi soldiers and police battle to reclaim the country’s second city.
A renewed push against the militants launched last Sunday has seen Daesh forced from several neighborhoods and key sites, including the main local government headquarters and the famed Mosul museum.
By Sunday, Iraqi forces were tightening the noose.
“[Daesh] is trapped. Just last night, the 9th Iraqi army division, up near Badush, just northwest of Mosul, cut off the last road out of Mosul,” the U.S. envoy to the anti-Daesh coalition, Brett McGurk, told journalists in Baghdad.
“Any of the fighters who are left in Mosul, they’re going to die there,” he said. “We are very committed to not just defeating them in Mosul, but making sure these guys cannot escape.”
In practice, Daesh fighters may still be able to sneak in and out of the city in small numbers, but the lack of access to roads makes larger-scale movement and resupply more difficult, if not impossible.
Coalition air support has been pivotal to Iraq’s fight against Daesh, helping Iraqi forces slowly claw back territory throughout Iraq’s western Anbar province and up the Tigris River valley to Mosul.
Daesh has lost “over 60 percent of the territory it once held here in Iraq, and is losing more every day,” and is losing fighters faster than it can replace them, McGurk said.
“We now believe that we are killing so many of their fighters that they are not able to replace them. That was not the case even a year ago,” said McGurk, putting the toll for Daesh leaders at 180 dead.
Staff Maj. Gen. Maan al-Saadi of the elite Counter Terrorism Service told AFP that “more than a third” of west Mosul was now under the control of security forces.
CTS troops stormed Al-Jadida and Al-Aghawat districts Sunday, Saadi told reporters in Mosul, saying the militants were showing signs of weakness despite initial “fierce” resistance.
“The enemy has lost its fighting power and its resolve has weakened. It has begun to lose command and control,” he said, adding that around 17 out of 40 western districts had been retaken.
Saadi said he expected it would take less time to recapture the western half of the city than the east, which was cleared in January after 100 days of fighting.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said that forces from the Rapid Response Division, another special forces unit, and the federal police were also attacking the Bab al-Toub area on the edge of Mosul’s Old City.
“The battle is not easy ... we are fighting an irregular enemy who hides among the citizens and uses tactics of booby-trapping, explosions and suicide bombers, and the operation is taking place with precision to preserve the lives of the citizens,” the JOC’s spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, told AFP.
A federal police spokesman said his forces along with the RRD were now around 300 meters from the Old Bridge – one of five that connected west Mosul to east.
As many as 600,000 civilians are trapped with the militants inside the city which Iraqi forces have effectively sealed off from the remaining territory that Daesh controls in Syria and Iraq.
Daesh overran Mosul in the summer of 2014 and swept across large swaths of the country’s north and west. At the height of the group’s power in Iraq, Daesh controlled nearly a third of the country.
Backed by U.S.-led airstrikes and other support, Iraqi forces have since retaken much of the territory they lost.
More than 200,000 Mosul residents have been displaced since the start of the campaign in October, of which more than 65,000 fled their homes in the past two weeks alone, according to the International Organization for Migration.
In the Mansour district, from which Daesh was driven several days ago, residents collected aid brought by volunteers from east Mosul while helicopters circled overhead, firing heavy machine guns and missiles at targets in the city.
While the noose is tightening around the militants still in Mosul, the city’s recapture would not spell the end of Daesh.
It also holds areas in western Iraq as well as across the border in Syria, including Raqqa, the only city aside from Mosul in which Daesh still holds significant territory.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group for Kurdish and Arab fighters, are closing in on Raqqa, with McGurk saying that they were some 10 kilometers from the city.
“Raqqa remains their administrative capital, it’s where we think a lot of their leaders are located, it’s where we think they are planning a lot of attacks around the world,” he said.