Iraq military begins Mosul offensive, backed by U.S. airstrikes

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Iran’s military has launched the first phase of an offensive to take back Mosul, Iraq from Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’s (ISIL) control.

In preparation for the siege on Mosul, the Iraq Army, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, attacked ISIL positions in Nineveh province on March 24, capturing several villages to the East, officials said.

Iraqi forces captured several villages east of Mosul on March 24. /AP
Iraqi forces captured several villages east of Mosul on March 24. /AP

According to an official at the military’s provincial Nineveh Operations Command, the aim of the first phase of the Mosul offensive was to clear the areas between Makhmour and the adjacent Qayara area to the east of the Tigris River, and to cut one of the ISIL supply lines to the nearby Shirqat area.

Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city — fell to ISIL in June 2014.

Coalition and Iraqi officials estimate eight to 12 brigades, or an estimated 24,000 to 36,000 troops, will be needed for the Mosul operation. So far, only 2,000 to 3,000 Iraqi troops have reportedly been deployed at Makhmour base.

The United States recently set up a small Marines artillery outpost in northern Iraq to protect the nearby Iraqi military base in Makhmour — the likely staging ground for a Mosul assault. The U.S. outpost came under ISIL rocket fire on March 19, killing a U.S. Marine and wounding several others.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has repeatedly vowed to “liberate” Mosul, but U.S. Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress last month that he was “not as optimistic.”