Iraqi forces seized control of much of Mosul airport on Thursday morning, marking an important moment in a push to recapture the city from Islamic State, The Guardian reports.
The advance into the airport, to the southwest of Mosul, will allow troops to use the large, sprawling area to launch operations into the fortified western suburbs, where several thousand of Isis’s most seasoned fighters have prepared defences.
Backed by US jets and drones, national police forces were first into the airfield and had secured most of the runway by noon local time. Militants had laid mines throughout the disused complex and were clashing heavily with advancing forces.
A spokesman for the Iraqi counter-terrorism forces, Sabah al-Numan, said: “Our forces started a major operation this morning to storm the Ghazlani airport base and I can confirm that it is only a matter of time before we control the whole area.”
The seizure of the base will give the forces and their US backers control of two large airfields near Mosul, the other one being the Qayyarah Military base, to the south of the city.
Outnumbered and outgunned, Isis is expected to intensify the guerrilla campaign that it used in the east of the city to slow the push to capture the west, a more difficult landscape to take militarily. West Mosul’s narrow streets will make the going tough for armoured vehicles, meaning a lot of the fighting will need to be done house to house. Isis is known to have deployed dozens of suicide bombers along the approaches to city.
A British jihadi, Jamal al-Harith, born Ronald Fiddler, is thought to have been among them and to have exploded himself in an area known as Abu Saif on Monday.
Aid organisations say as many as 750,000 civilians may still be in western Mosul. Mercy Corps’s country director, Su’ad Jarbawi, said: “We need to be nimble and ready to respond to the needs of the people wherever and however we find them.
As many as half of Mosul’s remaining residents are thought to be under 18, and 160,000 have already fled the west of the city for newly erected refugee camps to the south. Iraqi forces have detained hundreds of military aged men as they have fled, in an attempt to weed out any Isis members among them.
Iraq’s prime minister, Haidar al-Abadi, has demanded that troops be held accountable for any abuses. In the fight for the east of the city, relatively few allegations of abuse arose, with national police and soldiers winning the cautious trust of communities who, before the Isis takeover of Mosul in mid-2014, had been deeply wary of a secrecy order imposed by Baghdad.