U.S.-backed Iraqi forces closing in on the Islamic State-held western half of Mosul prepared on Tuesday to storm the airport and a nearby military base on its southern outskirts to create a bridgehead for a thrust into the city.
Since ousting the militant group from eastern Mosul last month, Iraqi forces have advanced in sparsely populated outlying areas but fighting will intensify as they near the teeming inner city of western Mosul and the risk to roughly 750,000 civilians there will rise.
The U.S. military commander in Iraq has said he believes U.S.-backed forces will retake both of IS’s urban bastions – Mosul and Raqqa in neighboring Syria – within the next six months, which would end the jihadists’ ambitions to territorial rule three years after they declared a “caliphate”.
Iraqi federal police and elite interior ministry units known as Rapid Response have made rapid progress towards western Mosul in a sweep from the south through stony desert terrain since launching the offensive’s second phase on Sunday.
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