Iraqi forces were making gains as tens of thousands of fighters advanced on Mosul Tuesday in an unprecedented offensive to retake the city from the ISIL 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 armored convoys across the dusty plains surrounding Mosul, forces moved into villages defended by pockets of ISIL 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 nearby said that ISIL lit the wells on fire to provide cover from air strikes before the town of Qayyarah was retaken in late August. The fires had been burning ever since.
Heavy smoke was also hanging over Mosul itself as the ‘jihadists’ burned tires to shield themselves, resident Abu Saif said.
Speaking to AFP from inside the city, Abu Saif said that while the sounds of air strikes and explosions could be heard coming from outside Mosul, its streets were eerily quiet.
The Iraqi government spokesman announced that Mosul campaign does not have a time limit and noted that the civilians displaced from the city have been provided with safe passages.