Iraqi special forces join Mosul offensive against ISIS
Khazer, Iraq — An Iraqi general says special forces have joined the Mosul offensive with a pre-dawn advance on a nearby town held by the Islamic State group.
Gen. Maan al-Saadi says the elite Counterterrorism Forces advanced on the town of Bartalla with the aid of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and heavy artillery on Thursday, the fourth day of a massive operation to retake Iraq’s second-largest city.
The special forces are expected to lead the way into the city itself, where they will face fierce resistance in an urban landscape where IS militants are preparing for a climactic battle.
The offensive is the largest operation launched by Iraqi forces since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. It is expected to take weeks, if not months.
The Kurdish forces known as peshmerga, who are also taking part in the offensive, announced a “large-scale operation” to the north and northeast of Mosul on Thursday.
“The operation will be in three fronts,” the peshmerga said in a statement, and follows recent gains by the peshmerga to the east of Mosul and Iraqi security forces to the south.
Amer al-Jabbar, a 30-year-old soldier with the Iraqi special forces, said he was happy to be taking part in the attack and hoped to avenge two brothers killed while fighting for the Iraqi security forces.
“I had one brother who became a martyr in 2007 and another who became a martyr in 2014,” he said. “I want to avenge them and I’m ready to die.”
An intense gun battle erupted as the convoy of some 1,000 special forces made its way toward Bartalla. The troops were around nine miles from Mosul.
The advance comes the day after mutilated bodies of Islamic State group fighters were found in the northern Iraqi town of Al-Hud on Wednesday.
Iraqi troops on the march toward Mosul had moved into al-Hud a day earlier and declared it liberated. But they found residents had already risen up and killed many of the militants in the town themselves.
With the offensive to recapture Mosul in its third day, Iraqi forces advancing from the south and east are fighting to retake the towns and villages the dot the plains and line the Tigris River leading to the city. At times, they’ve met fierce resistance, with the militants sending explosives-packed vehicles careening toward the troops’ positions.
This area has been under control of the militants ever since the summer of 2014, when IS fighters captured Mosul and much of the north in a lightning advance.
In al-Hud, a Sunni Arab town on the Tigris, residents saw their chance to get rid of them. On Monday, a man paraded through town with an Iraqi flag in a show of defiance, residents told The Associated Press. IS fighters shot and killed him.
A group of residents gathered in a shop, news spread among the hundreds of people living in the town, and soon a crowd turned on the militants.
One resident, Ahmed Mohammed, said he and others shot a militant who was hiding by an outhouse behind a shop. “That didn’t work. Then one of our guys came and threw a grenade on him from the top,” he said.
Gasim Mohammed said his father was killed in the uprising against the militants. He kicked the head of one of the bodies. “This one smells like a dog,” he said. “I hate them.”
It was not clear how many militants had been in the village or how many were killed. The Associated Press saw at least five bodies.
The head of the Iraqi military’s operations command for Nineveh province where the offensive its taking place confirmed the residents’ account.
“Before we reached the village they fought them and killed many of them,” Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jobori said.