Iraqi forces are engaged in a massive offensive to regain control of Mosul airport, a Iraqi spokesman has said in a statement.
Federal police troops have begun the second stage of operations to liberate western Mosul and are focusing their efforts on regaining control of the city’s airport, Lt. General Raid Shakir Jaudat said in a statement Thursday.
Federal police and rapid response forces, backed by drones and heavy artillery, advanced from several positions to storm the strategically key installation, Jaudat added in his statement.
“Federal police forces are able to finish the battle of the airport in a record time,” the statement adds. “We have destroyed the majority of the enemy’s defensive (positions)… we are closely monitoring their movement and military planes are hunting them.”
CNN has long been told by sources inside Mosul that ISIS has sabotaged the airstrip there to prevent its use.
Meanwhile, Iraqi anti-terrorism forces stormed the al-Ghazlani camp, a Iraqi military base just to the west of Mosul airport, Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Rasheed Yarallah, commander of Iraqi forces in Nineveh, said in a statement released by the Joint Operation Command.
ISIS took control of the site in the summer of 2014, along with the rest of Mosul. Along with the airport. the camp was also one of the offensive’s objectives in the primary stages of the operation.
The effort to take western Mosul, which began Sunday morning, comes weeks after Iraqi forces recaptured the eastern half of the city, which is divided by the Tigris River.
ISIS seized Mosul in 2014. The offensive to retake Iraq’s second-largest city began in October with a push by the army, counter-terrorism forces, federal police and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.
Iraqi commanders say the battle for western Mosul will be the toughest fight yet against ISIS. Over the past two years, the militant group has dedicated much of its defensive preparation to the western part of the city.
The city has networks of alleys that are impassable by military vehicles. Human rights organizations fear that the use of heavy weaponry in the narrow streets of the old city — where an estimated 650,000 civilians are still trapped — would probably result in very high human toll.
US troops injured
US troops operating around Mosul have come under fire from ISIS and some have been wounded in the last six to eight weeks as they have moved closer to the front lines in Iraq, military officials acknowledged Tuesday.
“Yes, they have been under fire at different times,” Col. John Dorrian, a coalition spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve said at a Pentagon news conference.
“They have returned fire at different times in and around Mosul. That has happened at different times.”
A US defense official said some had been injured on the battlefield but declined to give numbers. The official said that those injured in combat had been medevaced off the battlefield.
Earlier in the week, US-backed Iraqi forces cleared ISIS fighters from a key village overlooking Mosul’s airport, the Iraqi army said.