Day 2: Iraqi forces make gains in push to retake IS-held Mosul
Iraqi forces were making gains as tens of thousands of fighters advanced towards Mosul on Tuesday in an unprecedented offensive to retake the city from the Islamic State (IS) group.
With the crucial battle in its second day, Iraqi commanders said progress was being made as fighters pushed on two main fronts against the jihadists’ last stronghold in Iraq.
The US military, which is leading a coalition providing air and ground support, said Iraqi forces even looked “ahead of schedule” but senior Western officials warned the battle would be long and difficult. Advancing in armoured convoys across the dusty plains surrounding Mosul, forces moved into villages defended by pockets of IS fighters, after intensive aerial bombardment.
Massive columns of smoke rose from burning oil wells near the main staging base for government forces in Qayyarah, blotting out the horizon.
A soldier at a checkpoint said IS lit the wells on fire to provide cover from airstrikes before the town of Qayyarah was retaken in late August. The fires had been burning ever since. Heavy smoke was also hanging over Mosul as jihadists burnt tyres to shield themselves, resident Abu Saif said.
Saif said while the sounds of airstrikes and explosions could be heard coming from outside Mosul, its streets were eerily quiet. “The streets are empty, the people have been staying at home since the strikes started yesterday,” said Saif, a former company manager.