Iraqi government forces, with air and ground support from the US-led coalition, launched an offensive on Monday to drive Islamic State from the northern city of Mosul, the militants' last major stronghold in the country. Helicopters released flares overhead and explosions could be heard on the city's eastern front, where Kurdish fighters moved forward to take outlying villages.
Helicopters released flares overhead and explosions could be heard on the city's eastern front, where Kurdish fighters moved forward to take outlying villages, a Reuters correspondent said.
The United States predicted Islamic State would suffer "a lasting defeat" as Iraqi forces mounted their biggest operation since the US withdrew its own troops in 2011.
Some 30,000 Iraqi soldiers, Kurdish Peshmerga militia and Sunni tribal fighters were expected to take part in the offensive to drive an estimated 4,000 to 8,000 Islamic State militants from Mosul, a city of 1.5 million people.
"I announce today the start of the heroic operations to free you from the terror and the oppression of Daesh," Prime Minister Haider Abadi said in a speech on state TV, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
"We will meet soon on the ground of Mosul to celebrate liberation and your salvation," he said, surrounded by the armed forces' top commanders.
The Mosul offensive is one of the biggest military operations in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
WATCH LIVE on #Periscope: ‘Victory is upon us!’ – Iraqi forces launch #Mosul operation to retake city from #ISIS https://t.co/IWdzlEbA6y — RT (@RT_com) October 17, 2016"This is a decisive moment in the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat," US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State. In 2014, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed from Mosul's Grand Mosque a "caliphate" in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. If Mosul falls, Raqqa in Syria will be Islamic State's last city stronghold.
IRAQ: UN says Mosul operation in a "worst case" could be the largest humanitarian situation in the world.pic.twitter.com/QfOH97MYsL — Conflict News (@Conflicts) October 17, 2016The Iraqi army had dropped tens of thousands of leaflets over Mosul before dawn on Sunday, warning residents that the offensive was imminent. The leaflets carried several messages, one of them assuring the population that advancing army units and air strikes "will not target civilians" and another telling them to avoid known locations of Islamic State militants. Meanwhile, Numan Kurtulmus, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, has said his country is ready for the hundreds of thousands who may flee because of fighting, although, he added, there will be no influx of refugees if the operation is run correctly.
.@npwcnn is embedded with a Peshmerga convoy near Mosul, Iraq. Here's what he's seeing: https://t.co/tWYaV90B0M pic.twitter.com/2xLYX8m7B9 — CNN (@CNN) October 17, 2016
Iraqi forces will fight their way to Mosul and then seek to encircle the city before launching an attack inside it, tactics they have used in operations to retake other IS-held cities including Ramadi and Tikrit. The eventual assault into Mosul will likely be led by Iraq's elite counter-terrorism service, which has spearheaded most operations against the jihadists.
To reach Mosul, Iraqi forces will have to advance through several dozen kilometres of IS-held territory, including multiple villages.
IS will be vastly outnumbered in the battle and will seek to use hit-and-run tactics, ambushes, snipers, bombs, berms and trenches to slow down and bleed Iraqi forces. The jihadists have littered other cities with thousands of bombs, placing them in roads, buildings and houses.
The large civilian population inside Mosul may have limited the locations they could place explosives, but bombs will still play a major role in IS's defences.[caption id="attachment_22613" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack IS in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016 REUTERS[/caption]