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Iraqi special forces join battle in Mosul

23 October 2016

A USA general has said that Islamic State (Isis) leaders have shown signs that they are fleeing Mosul and leaving behind hardcore foreign fighters to battle coalition forces advancing on the city.

"We've seen movement out of Mosul; we've got indications that leaders have left", said Gen Volesky, giving his assessment of the situation.

The closer the Iraqi and coalition forces get to the city, the more hard the fighting is likely to become, and the more risky for the millions of civilians trapped in the city. The operation to retake Mosul is the largest launched by the Iraqi army since the 2003 USA -led invasion.

Maj. Gen. Maan al-Saadi said the elite Counterterrorism Forces advanced on the town of Bartella 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.

There are about 5,000 US forces in Iraq, including between 100 and 200 advisers embedded with the advancing Iraqi troops.

The head of Russia's General Staff has said Moscow was concerned that Isil militants holed up in the Iraqi city of Mosul might escape to Syria, and said they should be killed on the spot instead.

In Mosul, meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of civilians were trapped with dwindling supplies on Wednesday, many sheltering in basements.

The Islamic State group captured Mosul during a lightning advance across northern Iraq in 2014, and IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the formation of a self-styled caliphate from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque.

An Iraqi officer from the 9th Division said his troops were now around one kilometre (half a mile) away from Hamdaniyah, a historically Christian town also known as Bakhdida, to the east of Mosul.

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Iraqi News reported Wednesday that security and Peshmerga forces have taken control of more than 80 percent of territory south of Mosul, which includes about 54 villages.

Turkish warnings about sectarian clashes in Mosul if Shiite militia are involved in the operation in the mainly Sunni region also drew Iraq's ire.

But Petraeus, the retired four-star general who led U.S. forces in Mosul in 2003, said that it's not a matter of if ISIS will be defeated, but when.

"I expect they (Islamic State fighters) are going to go into insurgency mode", Volesky said.

"A challenge with the Shia PMF is that people treat it like it is a homogeneous group and it is not", Volesky explained at a Pentagon briefing.

Iraqi military commanders have been extorting money from journalists and hampering their coverage of the ongoing military advance on the jihadist-controlled city of Mosul.

Over the past day, ISIS sent 12 auto bombs, all of which were blown up before reaching their targets, and Iraqi troops suffered a small number of casualties from the mortar rounds, an officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

He says troops suffered a small number of casualties from the mortar rounds, without providing figures. Militants were using suicide car-bombs, roadside bombs and snipers to resist the attack, and were pounding surrounding areas with mortars, a CTS commander said.

The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to reporters.