U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have begun a military offensive aimed at dislodging Islamic State militants from the western part of Mosul, the latest phase in a four-month old operation to retake the country's second largest city.
"Our forces are beginning the liberation of the citizens from the terror of Daesh," Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Sunday, using an Arabic acronym for IS. "We announce the start of a new phase in the operation." He urged security forces to respect human rights as they continue the military operation.
Iraqi forces retook several villages as part of the new offensive and are now aiming for the Mosul airport.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Sunday the U.S. role in the fight will remain the same.
WATCH: Mattis on Anti-IS Operation in West Mosul
"The attack into the city is something I don’t want to go into details about because I owe confidentiality to the troops who are actually making the attack. At the same time we are very close to it if not already engaged in that, in that fight," he said. "The U.S. forces continue in the same role that they were in East Mosul and the coalition forces are in support of this operation, and we will continue as you know with the accelerated effort to destroy ISIS."
Civilians at risk
The United Nations is warning that hundreds of thousands of civilians are at risk in Mosul.
"The situation is distressing. People, right now, are in trouble,'' Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement. "We are hearing reports of parents struggling to feed their children and to heat their homes,'' Grande said.
Iraqi security forces took control of eastern Mosul from IS last month, more than 100 days after the offensive to retake the city began.
U.S. military officials have warned the fight for the western part of the city will likely be much tougher.
Iraqi special operations forces, regular army and federal police units are taking part in the offensive along with government-approved paramilitary forces.
Islamic State militants took control of Mosul in 2014, when the group captured large areas of northern and western Iraq.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP