Iraq’s U.S.-backed military has launched an offensive to liberate the northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
BBC quotes the Iraqi military as saying the operation is “the first part of the long-awaited offensive has recaptured several villages.”
The Iraqi army operation is reportedly backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Kurdish peshmerga troops, and a Shiite-controlled paramilitary force.
“Recapturing the city would represent a huge victory for the Iraqi forces, which have been making slow gains against the extremist group’s fighters,” reports USAToday. “It took months last year to retake the much smaller city of Ramadi from the militants.” .
ISIS has held Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, since June 2014.
“The assault [to retake Mosul] was launched from the Makhmour area, to which thousands of Iraqi troops have deployed in recent weeks, setting up base alongside Kurdish peshmerga and U.S. forces around 60 km [about 37 miles] south of Mosul, Islamic State’s main bastion,” reports Reuters.
“Iraqi officials say they will retake Mosul this year but, in private, many question whether the army, which partially collapsed when Islamic State overran a third of the country in June 2014, will be ready in time,” it adds.
An offensive to liberate Mosul has been in the works for months. An estimated two million lived in the city before ISIS took over.
“The first phase of the Fatah [Conquest] Operation has been launched at dawn to liberate Nineveh [province], raising the Iraqi flag in several villages,” the military reportedly said in a statement read on Iraqi state TV.
Mosul is the largest city controlled by ISIS, which has conquered large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria.
“Analysts say an offensive there would be the biggest counterattack ever mounted against the group, but they have warned the battle to retake it could be difficult, given the significant number of jihadists and civilians and the time [ISIS] has had to prepare itself,” reports BBC.
BBC also quotes a senior Iraqi security source as saying,“The goal [of the operation] is to secure this area and make it a safe point from where troops coming from the capital, Baghdad, will be able to launch incursions and encircle Mosul, along with the northern areas controlled by Kurdish peshmerga forces.”
According to the Pentagon, taking Mosul will require between 8 and 12 Iraqi brigades, more than 20,000 troops.
Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, recently said the alliance was satisfied with the progress Iraqi forces have made.