Islamic State fighters are putting up stiff resistance as Iraqi forces launched a third front in the offensive to take back Mosul. The group has unleashed suicide bombers and left a trail of booby traps, according to Al Jazeera and other media reports.
Iraq said that on Thursday its soldiers advanced from the south and east on the country’s second-largest city, while Kurdish Peshmerga fighters moved in from the north and east, Al Jazeera reported. Special forces entered the town of Bartella, 15 kilometers east of Mosul.
Major-General Fadhil Barwari told the news network that ISIS had few defenses in the predominantly Christian town, which was almost completely empty of civilians. “They just left some snipers and suicide car bombs,” he said.
ISIS fighters drove at least nine suicide car and truck bombs against the advancing troops, eight of which were destroyed before reaching their targets, while the ninth struck an armored Humvee, Lieutenant-Colonel Muntadhar al-Shimmari told Associated Press.
Two-hundred ISIS fighters were killed in the advance, CNN reported, citing Iraqi Maj-Gen Maan al-Saadi.
Lieutenant-General Stephen Townsend, the US head of coalition forces for Iraq and Syria, cautioned against complacency as the battle front advances toward the main objective of Mosul. ISIS is “a brutal opponent” that is “adaptable, creative and cunning,” he told the BBC.
Elsewhere, retreating ISIS fighters were reported to have set fire to a chemical plant south of Mosul. It is not yet clear if the fire has been extinguished— a similar fire at the same plant in 2003 burnt for weeks, sending sulfur dioxide into the air.
Separately on Thursday, the US said an American soldier had been killed in a roadside bomb attack in northern Iraq. The incident was the fourth US combat fatality in Iraq since operations against IS began there and in Syria in 2014.
But with the clashes have come sweeping gains — the coalition has now recaptured at least 100 square kilometers of territory, a CNN analysis of the battlefield shows.