MOSUL - Iraqi forces said Monday that
they have taken more territory from
jihadists and were searching for militants
and bombs on the edge of the Old City as
they press an offensive in west Mosul.
They are also striking IS with armed
drones as part of a renewed push launched on
March 5 that has forced the jihadists out of
several neighbourhoods and key sites,
including the famed Mosul museum.
West Mosul is the most-populated urban
area still held by the jihadists, followed
by Syria's Raqa, which is also a key target
in the US-led anti-IS campaign.
Iraq's Joint Operations Command announced
additional gains on Monday, saying that
forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism
Service had recaptured west Mosul's Al-Nafat
Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat
said that forces from the Rapid Response
Division, another special forces unit, and
the federal police were working to search
and clear territory on the edge of Mosul's
The forces are conducting "combing and
search operations in the liberated areas of
Bab al-Toub, searching for traps and mines
and terrorists hiding among the people",
Jawdat said in a statement.
The Old City -- a warren of narrow
streets and closely spaced buildings where
hundreds of thousands of civilians are
believed to still be living -- could see
some of the toughest fighting of the
campaign to retake Iraq's second city.
The commander also said that armed
observation drones are being used to monitor
and strike IS, as Iraqi forces also targeted
jihadist defences and positions with field
artillery and rockets.
He did not specify what type of drones
were being used.
More than 68,000 people have fled west
Mosul since February 25, streaming to camps
around the city, according to the
International Organization for Migration.
But that is only a small fraction of the
750,000 people who were estimated to still
be in west Mosul at the time the operation
- No escape for IS -
While CTS and Rapid Response are
spearheading the advance inside Mosul, Iraqi
army forces and pro-government
paramilitaries are fighting IS to the west.
Soldiers from the 9th Armoured Division
scored an important victory on Saturday
night when they cut the last road out of
west Mosul, said Brett McGurk, the US envoy
to the international anti-IS coalition.
"Any of the fighters who are left in
Mosul, they're going to die there, because
they're trapped," McGurk told journalists in
"We are very committed to not just
defeating them in Mosul, but making sure
these guys cannot escape," he said.
In practice, IS fighters may still be
able to sneak in and out of the city in
small numbers, but the lack of access to
roads makes larger-scale movement and
resupply more difficult, if not impossible.
"We now believe that we are killing so
many of their fighters that they are not
able to replace them. That was not the case
even a year ago," said McGurk, putting the
toll for IS leaders at 180 dead.
In Syria, the US-led coalition is backing
an Arab-Kurdish alliance known as the Syrian
Democratic Forces that is pushing towards
the jihadists' de facto capital Raqa.
"Raqa remains their (IS's) administrative
capital, it's where we think a lot of their
leaders are located, it's where we think
they are planning a lot of attacks around
the world," said McGurk.
Turkish-backed rebels are also advancing
against IS in northern Syria, as are
government troops supported by Russia.
According to the Syrian Observatory for
Human Rights monitoring group, more than
320,000 people have been killed in Syria's
six year conflict, including 96,000
And the United Nations children's agency
said Monday that violence against Syrian
children was "at its worst" last year, with
the number of minors killed, maimed or
recruited into armed groups in 2016 the
"highest on record".