IS claims coalition airstrike disables 4th Mosul bridge
Mosul, Iraq — An airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition on Wednesday “disabled” the fourth bridge on the Tigris River in Mosul, leaving the northern Iraqi city with a single functioning bridge and further disrupting the Islamic State group’s supply lines amid the government offensive against IS militants.
The extremist group’s media arm, the Aamaq news agency, and a top Iraqi commander in Mosul reported the airstrike, which took place before dawn. It was the second airstrike to target a Mosul bridge this week and the fourth since shortly before the Oct. 17 start of the Iraqi government’s campaign to retake the city from IS.
The airstrike was followed by intense fighting in an eastern Mosul neighborhood where Iraq’s special forces are slowly advancing toward the city center, hampered by suicide car bombings, sniper’s fire and concerns over the safety of civilians still living inside the city.
Mosul had five bridges over the Tigris until shortly before the start of the campaign. Targeting the bridges appears designed to disrupt IS supply lines in Mosul, which is sliced in half by the river. Most of the fighting in Mosul is taking place in the eastern part of the city — east of the Tigris — where Iraqi special forces are slowly moving toward the city center in the face of stiff IS resistance.
The destruction of the bridges means that the Iraqi military and its allies — the Kurdish peshmerga forces and Sunni tribesmen — would have to use military pontoon bridges to cross the river when they arrive at the banks of the river.
Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil of the Iraqi special forces told The Associated Press that his men were slowly pushing back IS fighters in the densely populated Mosul neighborhood of Zohour. He said their progress was hampered by IS suicide car bombs, several of which were targeted by coalition aircraft before they reached their intended targets. His men were in control of about half the neighborhood by Wednesday afternoon, he said.
Mortars, artillery and automatic fire were used in the fighting, which prompted dozens of families to flee their homes to the safety of centers set up for displaced civilians away from front-line neighborhoods, according to an AP team in Mosul. Unmanned aircraft flew overhead and deep booms from airstrikes could be heard. Plumes of smoke rose above the battlefield.
By the afternoon, reinforcement of about 100 heavily armed special forces troops arrived and moved directly to the battlefield.
The displaced families arrived to safety carrying plastic bags filled with personal belongings. They had walked from neighborhoods closer to the center of the city. One family arrived on a donkey-drawn cart.
Across the street from where the displaced civilians were being loaded onto trucks, a wounded soldier was brought for treatment. Later, the body of a dead soldier arrived in a black Humvee. It was wrapped in a blanket bearing the image of Imam Hussein, one of the most revered saints to Shiite Muslims. Later, five members of the same family were rushed into the medical aid station. All five — a man and four children — were bleeding from shrapnel wounds when a mortar hit their home in the Tahrir neighborhood.
Dozens of other displaced civilians also descended on the aid station but were turned away by troops, who said they had intelligence that IS was planning to send suicide bombers masquerading as displaced families there.
The progress of the Mosul campaign has been slow as the Iraqis and the U.S.-led coalition avoid using overwhelming power against the Islamic State group because of the presence inside the city of some 1 million civilians.
On Tuesday, a U.N. spokesman said the number of displaced people fleeing the military operation in Mosul has risen to over 68,000.
Stephane Dujarric said 8,300 Iraqis had been displaced from the city and outlying districts over the past four days, citing figures from the U.N.-linked International Organization for Migration.
The majority of the displaced — 59,200 — came from the districts surrounding Mosul and the rest from inside the city, he said.
In Turkey, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and the prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, met Wednesday to discuss the operation to oust IS militants from Mosul, according to an emailed statement.
Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds have forged strong economic bonds. Barzani later travelled to Istanbul where he met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.