by WorldTribune Staff, June 29, 2016
Iraqi forces are closing in on an airfield they hope to use as a staging ground for an offensive against Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in Mosul.
The Iraqi forces are now some 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the airbase at Qayara, military officials told Reuters.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has pledged to retake Mosul this year.
As they advanced toward the airbase, Iraqi army and counter-terrorism forces seized from ISIL the town of Telol al-Baj, about 260 kilometers (160 miles) north of Baghdad and also took a refinery near Qayara with a production capacity of 16,000 barrels per day that officials say will hit ISIL’s finances.
A senior Iraqi commander said U.S.-led coalition air strikes have helped repel ISIL suicide car bomb attacks during the advance, adding that both sides have suffered casualties, and most ISIL jihadists have fled into the desert.
Iraq has had a more difficult time in its advance on Mosul from the eastern side of the Tigris river, taking a handful of villages while facing fierce resistance from ISIL since launching the offensive from Makhmour more than three months ago. The troops from Makhmour are expected to link up with the forces from the south near the Qayara airbase.
Upcoming military offensives in Iraq against ISIL, including an assault on Mosul, could displace at least 2.3 million people, a UN official said last week.