Iraqi Forces Enter Last Village, Advance Towards Mosul Airport

Iraqi Forces Enter Last Village, Advance Towards Mosul Airport

 U.S.-backed Iraqi forces fought Islamic State (ISIS) militants on Monday (February 20) to clear the way to Mosul's airport, on the second day of a ground offensive on the jihadists' remaining stronghold in the western side of the city.

Federal police and elite interior ministry units known as Rapid Response are leading the charge toward the airport, located on the southern limit of the Mosul, trying to dislodge the militants from a hill known as Albu Saif, bearing the same name as the nearby village.

The Iraqi forces' plan is to turn the airport into a close support base for the onslaught into western Mosul itself.

ISIS militants are essentially under siege in western Mosul, along with an estimated 650,000 civilians, after they were forced out of the eastern part of the city in the first phase of an offensive that concluded last month, after 100 days of fighting.

"They are striking and engaging our forces and pulling back towards Mosul," Major Mortada Ali Abd of the Rapid Response units told a Reuters correspondent south of Mosul. "God willing Albu Saif will be fully liberated today."

Up to 400,000 civilians could be displaced by the offensive as residents of western Mosul suffer food and fuel shortages and markets are closed, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande told Reuters on Saturday (February 18).

The city is the largest urban center captured by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS was thought to have up to 6,000 fighters in Mosul when the government's offensive started in mid-October. Of those, more than 1,000 have been killed, according to Iraqi estimates.

The remainder now face a 100,000-strong force made up of Iraqi armed forces, including elite paratroopers and police, Kurdish forces and Iranian-trained Shia paramilitary groups.

The United States, which has deployed more than 5,000 troops in the fighting, leads an international coalition providing key air and ground support, including artillery fire, to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces.