Iraqi and Kurdish troops launch operation to drive out IS
By Susannah George and Adam Schreck, AP
October 18, 2016, 12:03 am TWN
KHAZER, Iraq -- Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition air and ground support, launched coordinated military operations early on Monday as the long-awaited fight to wrest the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters got underway.
Convoys of Iraqi, Kurdish and U.S. forces moved east of Mosul along the front line as U.S.-led coalition airstrikes sent plumes of smokes into the air and heavy artillery rounds could be heard.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operations on state television, launching the country on its toughest battle since American troops left nearly five years ago.
Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, has been under IS rule for more than two years and is still home to more than a million civilians according to U.N. estimates.
"These forces that are liberating you today, they have one goal in Mosul which is to get rid of Daesh and to secure your dignity. They are there for your sake," al-Abadi said, addressing the city's residents and using the Arabic language acronym for the Islamic State group.
"God willing, we shall win," he added, flanked by military commanders.
The push to retake Mosul will be the largest military operation in Iraq since American troops left in 2011 and, if successful, the biggest blow yet to the Islamic State. Al-Abadi pledged the fight for the city would lead to the liberation of all Iraqi territory from the militants this year.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Ash Carter called the launch of the Mosul operation "a decisive moment in the campaign" to deliver a lasting defeat to IS.
Iraqi forces have been massing around the city in recent days, including elite special forces that are expected to lead the charge into the city, as well as Kurdish forces, Sunni tribal fighters, federal police and Shiite militia forces.
South of Mosul, Iraqi military units are based at the sprawling Qayara air base, but to the city's east, men are camped out in abandoned homes as the tens of thousands of troops massed around the city have overwhelmed the few military bases in the area.