Mosul offensive: Iraqi forces storm airport in bid to retake city


Mosul offensive: Iraqi forces storm airport in bid to retake city

Federal police vehicle inside airport

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Iraqi federal police have entered Mosul airport

Iraqi security forces have launched an attack on Mosul airport, a key part of the government’s offensive to drive so-called Islamic State (IS) militants from the western half of the city.

Military police have entered the airport and taken over the runway but have come under heavy fire from IS militants in airport buildings, AP reported.

They also stormed a nearby military base.

Eastern Mosul was retaken last month.

The airport’s runway had already been destroyed by IS, but BBC Middle East Correspondent Quentin Sommerville, who is embedded with Iraqi federal police units, says it still has value.

It’s a large piece of land, and controlling it will help secure southern routes to west Mosul, our correspondent says.

The assault began with overnight air strikes by the US-led coalition before armoured columns advanced to the airport’s perimeter.

Media captionQuentin Sommerville is embedded with Iraqi forces

IS militants have rigged the area with roadside bombs and are also firing mortars at the attacking force.

“We can confirm that the Mosul airport militarily has fallen and it’s a matter of short time to fully control it,” Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) spokesman Sabah al-Numan said.

Foreign troops from the US-led coalition were with the attacking troops, officials told AP, but did not specify their nationality.

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A sugar factory near the airport that had been held by IS is in flames

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This humvee was damaged in the fighting

The airport and the al-Ghazlani base are on Mosul’s southern outskirts on the western side of the Tigris river.

Thousands of Iraqi troops, backed by artillery and air power, are involved in the assault to retake Mosul.

Leaflets warning residents of an imminent offensive were earlier dropped over western Mosul, where military officials say narrow winding streets could make retaking the area particularly difficult.

Although slightly smaller than the east, western Mosul is more densely populated and includes districts seen as pro-IS.

The UN has voiced concern about the welfare of civilians trapped in the city, amid reports that they could number up to 650,000.

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Iraqi forces have also attacked a nearby military base

More than 160,000 people have already fled their homes in and around the city.

The UN said in late January that almost half of all the casualties in Mosul were civilians.

All bridges linking the east and west of the city, across the Tigris river, have been destroyed by air strikes.

IS jihadists overran Mosul as they spread across much of northern and western Iraq in 2014.

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