by WorldTribune Staff, October 17, 2016
A force of 30,000 Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni tribal fighters launched an offensive on Oct. 17 to retake Mosul from Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
“I announce today the start of the heroic operations to free you from the terror and oppression of Daesh,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on state TV.
“We will meet soon on the ground in Mosul to celebrate liberation and your salvation,” he said, surrounded by commanders of the armed forces.
Some 4,000 to 8,000 ISIL fighters are said to be defending Mosul, a city of 1.5 million people and the terror group’s main stronghold in Iraq.
“This is a decisive moment in the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat,” U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement. “We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from ISIL’s hatred and brutality.”
The commander of the U.S.-led coalition supporting Iraq’s offenisve, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, said the operation to take Iraq’s second largest city would likely continue for weeks, “possibly longer.”
Abadi sought to allay fears that the operation would provoke sectarian bloodletting, saying that only the Iraqi army and police would be allowed to enter the mainly Sunni city. He asked Mosul’s residents to cooperate with them.
Before dawn on Oct. 16, the Iraqi army dropped tens of thousands of leaflets over Mosul, warning residents that the offensive was imminent. The leaflets assured the population that advancing army units and air strikes “will not target civilians” and told them to avoid known locations of ISIL jihadists.
Mosul residents contacted by phone dismissed reports on Arabic television channels of a mass exodus by ISIL, who have a history of using human shields and have threatened to use chemical weapons.
“Daesh are using motorcycles for their patrols to evade air detection, with pillion passengers using binoculars to check out buildings and streets,” said Abu Maher, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
The Iraqi Kurdish military command said 4,000 Peshmerga were taking part in an operation to clear several villages held by ISIL to the east of Mosul, in an attack coordinated with a push by Iraqi army units from the southern front.