U.S. and Iraqi officials are citing gains in the battle to retake western Mosul from Islamic State, saying pro-government troops have pushed farther into militant-held territory and cut off potential escape routes.
Major General Maan al-Saadi says Iraqi security forces now control more than one-third of western Mosul after about a month of fighting there.
Islamic State has been in Mosul since mid-2014, but lost the eastern part of the city in January to a government offensive.It no longer holds any other major cities in Iraq.
Displaced people flee their homes, while Iraqi forces battle with Islamic State militants, in western Mosul, Iraq, March 12, 2017.
Iraqi troops on Sunday seized the last road leading out of Mosul, and U.S. envoy Brett McGurk said Islamic State is now trapped.
"Any of the fighters left in Mosul, they’re going to die there," McGurk said during a visit to Baghdad."So it is a matter of time right now before ISIS is totally defeated, but I do not want to understate the very difficult fight that lies ahead and nobody can put a timeframe on how long will this take, but the Iraqi security forces will complete this mission."
James Jeffrey, a former ambassador and distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the pro-government forces "have a huge victory coming," and that the Islamic State fighters are vastly outnumbered.
"Estimates that I saw over the last couple of days say as many as 5,000, but it could be well less than that," he told VOA."Certainly I would say that's the highest number, and they're surrounded by about 90,000 troops at this point."
The fighting has created a humanitarian crisis that United Nations and Iraqi refugee officials say could eventually force nearly half of the roughly 700,000 civilians remaining in western Mosul to flee.
Iraqi Migration and Displacement Minister Jassem al-Jaff said Sunday nearly 100,000 civilians have already been displaced, including an estimated 12,000 people who fled to areas south and east of the city during a single 24-hour period Saturday.
The U.N. Refugee Agency Saturday estimated that 5,000 civilians have fled conflict areas each day since government forces began their push into western areas of the city three weeks ago.
An agency statement said the unrelenting influx of internal refugees has overwhelmed the government's capacity to screen refugees as they enter safe areas.It said some families are forced to wait days before resettlement screening is completed.