Armed forces closing in on Mosul said on Tuesday they had secured some 20 villages on the outskirts of the city in the first 24 hours of an operation to retake what is Islamic State's last major stronghold in Iraq.
With air support from a US-led coalition, government and Kurdish forces edged closer to the city as smoke darkened the blue sky above one IS position, apparently from oil fires ignited to hamper the incursion and make it harder to land air strikes.
Reuters reporters witnessed Islamic State mortar fire in villages on the plain east of the city as the militants sought to counter a push by Kurdish forces.
One car bomb exploded during the fighting, although it was not immediately clear if it had been detonated or hit by incoming fire.[caption id="attachment_22923" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Peshmerga forces gather on the outskirt of Mosul during preparationS to attack Mosul, Iraq, October 15, 2016 REUTERS[/caption]
About 4,000 to 8,000 militants are thought to be dug into Mosul while the forces assembled to drive them out are estimated at 30,000, including Iraqi army, Kurdish and Sunni tribal fighters. More than 5,000 US soldiers are also deployed in support missions, as are troops from France, Britain, Canada and other Western nations.
The Iraqi army is attacking Mosul on the southern and southeastern fronts, while the Peshmerga carried out their operation to the east.
The Peshmerga, who are also deployed north and northwest of the city, said they secured "a significant stretch" of the 80 km road between Erbil, their capital, and Mosul, about an hour's drive to the west.
The UN refugee agency said it had built five camps to house 45,000 people and plans to have an additional six in the coming weeks with a capacity for 120,000, that would still not be enough to cope if the exodus is as big as feared.[caption id="attachment_22924" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Iraqi counterterrorism forces gather on the outskirt of Mosul during preparations to attack Mosul, Iraq, October 14, 2016REUTERS[/caption]
Turkey's air force has been involved in coalition air strikes on the Iraqi city of Mosul, part of the US-backed operation to flush out Islamic State, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday.
Turkey has been locked in a row with Baghdad about the presence of its troops at the Bashiqa camp in northern Iraq and over who should take part in the US-backed assault on Mosul. Turkey has trained up to 3,000 forces taking part but is concerned the operation could stoke sectarian tensions.
Battle for #Mosul: 1 million could be driven from homes, UN warns https://t.co/6cbpoZVX5l pic.twitter.com/Gfscjr93YW — TODAY (@TODAYshow) October 18, 2016
“Everyone is staying at home because we don’t know what else to do. IS are mostly moving around on motorbike and have small and heavy guns. The planes started bombing Mosul around 1am today and they are in the sky constantly and occasionally striking targets,” Abu Mohammed, a 35-year-old from the east side of the city told the reporters.
US aircraft have begun dropping 7m leaflets over the city, urging civilians to stay in their homes and giving advice on how to protect themselves from flying glass and comfort their children when the bombs drop. It advised residents not to attempt to flee. That would be almost impossible anyway, Mohammed said.
The Aamaq news agency is claiming eight suicide attacks against Kurdish peshmerga and says IS destroyed two Humvees belonging to the Kurdish forces and Shia militias east of the city on Monday.
IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and explosives expert Fawzi Ali Nouimeh were both in the city, according to what he described as "solid" intelligence reports, indicating the group would put up significant resistance.
The battle to retake Mosul from ISIS has begun.Here are 5 things you need to know: pic.twitter.com/bHlbFC8lEq — AJ+ (@ajplus) October 18, 2016
France will host with Iraq a ministerial summit on October 20 to discuss how to stabilise Mosul and its surroundings once Islamic State has been defeated in its Iraqi stronghold, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Tuesday.
Speaking to the French diplomatic press, Ayrault said winning the battle for Mosul could take time. He also said that with militants likely to retreat to their Syrian bastion Raqqa, it was vital to seriously consider how to also retake that city.
"For Raqqa, a similar method will be needed to Mosul. It will take time and political will, but we have to organize ourselves," he said.