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Kurdish forces in fresh push to capture Mosul from Daesh
By Reuters - Aug 14,2016 - Last updated at Aug 14,2016
In this Saturday photo, soldiers from the 1st Battalion of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces play the role of civilians during a training exercise to prepare for the operation to re-take Mosul from Daesh militants in Baghdad, Iraq (AP photo)
WARDAK, Iraq — Kurdish peshmerga forces launched a fresh attack on Daesh militants early on Sunday as part of a campaign to capture Mosul, the militants’ de facto capital in Iraq, Kurdish officials said.
The advance began after heavy shelling and air strikes by a United States-led coalition against Daesh forces, a Reuters correspondent reported from Wardak, 30km southeast of Mosul.
The militants fought back, firing mortars at the advancing troops and detonating at least two car bombs.
Clouds of black smoke rose from the area and dozens of civilians fled in the direction of the peshmerga lines, brandishing white flags.
A peshmerga commander said 11 villages had been taken from the ultra-hardline militants as the troops headed to Gwer, the target of the operation, 40km southeast of Mosul.
Repairing the bridge that the militants destroyed in Gwer would allow the peshmerga to open a new front around Mosul. The bridge crosses the Grand Zab River that flows into the Tigris.
The Iraqi army and the peshmerga forces of the Kurdish self-rule region are gradually taking up positions around Mosul, 400km north of Baghdad.
It was from Mosul’s Grand Mosque in 2014 that Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” spanning regions of Iraq and Syria.
Mosul is the largest urban centre under the militants’ control, and had a pre-war population of nearly 2 million.
Its fall would mark the effective defeat of Daesh in Iraq, according to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, who has said he aims to retake the city this year.
The Iraqi army is trying to advance from the south. In July it captured the Qayyara airfield, 60km south of Mosul, which will serve as the main staging post for the expected offensive.
The peshmerga operation on Sunday “is one of many shaping operations that will also increase pressure on ISIL [Daesh] in and around Mosul”, said the Kurdistan Regional Security Council in a statement.
The preparation for the offensive on Mosul “is approaching the final phase”, Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the coalition fighting the militant group, said in Baghdad on Thursday.
He said the planning included humanitarian considerations.
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