A vehicle shielded with metal plates and driven by a suicide attacker turned onto a main road filled with soldiers in eastern Mosul and burst into a ball of fire, causing several casualties.

As it careered down the road it was riddled with gunfire as Iraqi forces responded to the latest Islamic State counterattack against their push to reclaim the northern city.

This and what followed on Thursday were indicative of the challenges Iraq’s U.S.-backed military faces in fighting enemies who are willing to kill themselves to defend their last major stronghold in the country while surrounded by well over a million civilians.

Elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) forces posted at intersections along the road pounded targets a few hundred meters away with heavy machine gun fire. Sharpshooters honed in on black-clad figures scurrying across rooftops or popping out of houses with AK-47s to take a few pot shots.