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December, 4, 2016

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IS trapping civilians in Mosul, Pentagon says

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon Tuesday accused Islamic State jihadists of barring civilians from leaving Mosul and using them as human shields, as President Barack Obama warned of the potential for "significant" displacement.

Authorities and aid agencies are bracing for a massive flow of civilians fleeing the northern Iraqi city as the fight to seize the last remaining IS stronghold in the country progresses.

The battle, which began Monday, has focused on the villages surrounding Iraq's second-largest city, most of which are traditionally Kurdish.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said IS had for weeks kept Mosul's estimated population of 1.5 million from escaping, with the start of the offensive offering them no respite.

"We know they are being used as human shields, absolutely," Davis said.

"They are being held there against their will. We have not seen any change in the last day of people leaving or fleeing."

Although there has been no mass exodus of civilians so far, Obama warned of "significant" displacement in the coming weeks, saying the United Nations and other aid groups were ready to respond.

"We have put together plans and infrastructure for dealing with a potential humanitarian crisis that are as extensive as the military plans," Obama told reporters.

United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said an estimated 200,000 people are expected to be displaced in the first weeks of the offensive, growing to as many as one million under a worst-case scenario.

For now at least, the US-led coalition and Iraqi authorities want civilians to stay put, fearing they will be executed if they are caught leaving.

A US B-52 superbomber dropped thousands of leaflets giving advice to the people of Mosul, explaining how to minimize risks to life and property during the battle.

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