coalition forces tighten noose on IS in Mosul,
Iraqi forces advance in west Mosul as are IS
fighters are feeling squeeze while US nearly
doubles its troops to help defeat them in
BAGHDAD - Iraqi forces advanced on the
Islamic State group in west Mosul on
Thursday as the United States nearly doubled
its troops to help defeat the jihadists in
their Syrian stronghold Raqa.
The US-led coalition fighting IS said the
United States was deploying another 400
troops against the jihadists in their
self-proclaimed capital in Syria, joining
500 already on the ground.
"They are temporary forces," coalition
spokesman US Colonel John Dorrian told
reporters in Baghdad, adding the long-term
authorised level of American troops in Syria
would remain at 500.
The announcement came as the State
Department said the United States would host
a meeting of the 68 members of the coalition
fighting IS on March 22.
The American military buildup comes amid
calls by President Donald Trump for new
plans to accelerate the pace of the war
against the Sunni Muslim extremists.
IS jihadists are facing simultaneous
offensives in northern Syria by government
forces, Turkish-backed rebels, and a
US-supported alliance of Kurdish and Arab
In the latest sign they are feeling the
squeeze, their chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
was reported to have abandoned Mosul,
leaving local commanders behind to fight the
"He was in Mosul at some point before the
offensive.... He left before we isolated
Mosul and Tal Afar," a town to the west,
said a US defence official.
"He probably gave broad strategic guidance
and has left it to battlefield commanders."
Baghdadi, who declared IS's cross-border
"caliphate" at a Mosul mosque in 2014, in an
audio message in November urged supporters
to make a stand in the city rather than
"retreating in shame".
- New neighbourhood recaptured -
Iraq launched the offensive to retake Mosul
-- which involves tens of thousands of
soldiers, police and allied militia fighters
-- in October.
After recapturing its eastern side, the
forces set their sights on the city's
densely populated west.
In recent days Iraqi forces have retaken a
series of neighbourhoods and a museum where
IS militants filmed themselves destroying
Iraq's Joint Operations Command announced
Thursday the elite Counter-Terrorism Service
recaptured the Mualemeen neighbourhood in
And forces from the Rapid Response Division,
another special forces unit, and the federal
police worked to clear roads and buildings
in other areas, said the JOC.
The area is located on the edge of Mosul's
Old City, a warren of narrow streets and
closely spaced houses that could see some of
the toughest fighting of the battle.
"Currently there is no order from the
operations command to advance toward the Old
City. We will advance when this order is
issued," said Lieutenant Colonel Abdulamir
al-Mohammedawi of the Rapid Response
Hundreds of thousands of civilians are
believed to still be trapped under IS rule
Those who did manage to escape the city said
the jihadists were growing increasingly
"We were used as human shields," said
Abdulrazzaq Ahmed, a 25-year-old civil
servant, who escaped along with hundreds of
other civilians to Iraqi police waiting
outside the city.
Rayan Mohammed, a frail 18-year-old who was
once given 60 lashes for missing prayers,
said the jihadists were scrambling in the
face of the Iraqi offensive.
"They ran away like chickens," he said.
- Deadly suspected coalition strike -
West Mosul is the most heavily populated
area under IS control and one of two major
urban centres it still holds, along with
Raqa in Syria.
In Syria, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish
and Arab fighters known as the Syrian
Democratic Forces has been advancing on Raqa.
The United States has been leading a
coalition since mid-2014 carrying out air
strikes against the jihadists in both Syria
Strikes on an IS-held northern Syrian
village thought to have been conducted by
the coalition killed at least 23 civilians
Among the dead were at least eight children
and six women, said the Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights.
The coalition said this month that its raids
had unintentionally killed at least 220
civilians since 2014 in both countries.
Elsewhere in Syria, Turkish troops and their
rebel allies have pushed south from the
Turkish border and driven IS out of the
northern town of Al-Bab.
Russian-backed government troops have
meanwhile swept eastwards from Syria's
second city Aleppo and seized a swathe of
countryside from the jihadists.
The Observatory said Thursday that 17 IS
fighters from Morocco were killed in intense
Russian strikes in the east of Aleppo
province, where the group has lost swathes
The US defence official said IS was now
looking beyond the seemingly inevitable
losses of Mosul and Raqa.
"They... are still making plans to continue
to function as a pseudo-state centred in the
Euphrates River valley," the official said.
Middle East Online