LONDON - Iraqi government and Kurdish Peshmerga forces say they are within 25 kilometers of the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, three days into an operation seen as crucial in defeating the terror group. The closer the Iraqi and coalition forces get to the city, the more difficult the fighting is likely to become, and the more dangerous for the millions of civilians trapped in the city.
Islamic State released a propaganda video Wednesday purporting to show its fighters defiantly patrolling the streets of Mosul. An unidentified militant addresses the camera, warning that the United States will be defeated in Iraq.
Despite the rhetoric, Islamic State fighters are rapidly losing ground.
Backed by coalition artillery and airstrikes, Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces say they are ahead of schedule in their mission to retake Mosul. Iraqi Army spokesman Brigadier Yahia Rassoul said there have been more than 20 suicide cars trying to target army vehicles during the advance, but they were all destroyed.
More than 100 U.S. troops are embedded with Iraqi and Peshmerga forces behind the front lines.
International coalition jets are targeting Islamic State positions in Mosul. Local residents have told of reports of fighters forcing civilians into buildings they believe are likely to be targeted.
Visiting fellow Afzal Ashraf of the University of Nottingham Center for Conflict, Security and Terrorism says the population faces grave danger.
“There is always the very strong possibility that this terror group Daesh (Islamic State) will use them physically as human shields. So there are, I am afraid, some very difficult days ahead for the population,” said Ashraf.
As the battle approaches the center of Mosul, Ashraf said, the fighting is likely to get much more difficult.
“We will get into the urban warfare type of environment, which again involves suicide bombers, but here in narrow streets it is very difficult for the coalition forces to avoid them. Right now there will be a great deal of surveillance to detect any possible areas where bombs have been planted,” said Ashraf.
One-and-a-half million civilians are thought to be living in Mosul. Many are expected to flee, presenting an opportunity for Islamic State fighters to escape, said Ashraf.
“Daesh will use the human exodus. They will use other means of disguising themselves. And I believe they have already begun to leave the city,” said Ashraf.
That could allow Islamic State fighters in Mosul to regroup in Syria, neighboring countries or Europe.