MOSUL/BAGHDAD:Iraqi troops launch a fresh push against areas held by Daesh terrorists around Mosul as special forces join the offensive to retake the Takfiri group's last major stronghold in Iraq.
Government troops advanced on the town of Bartallah, located less than 20 kilometers east of Mosul, on Thursday after capturing a string of villages nearby.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraqi forces were pushing towards Mosul more quickly "than we thought and more quickly than planned."
Abadi made the remarks in a video conference address to an international meeting held in Paris on Thursday.
The prime minister noted that Daesh is a destructive ideology and a threat to the region and the rest of the world.
"Our war today in Mosul is an Iraqi war conducted by Iraqis for Iraqis and for the defense of Iraq's territory," he said. "Full Iraqi unity is shining through and more than ever showing the unity to vanquish terrorism."
Abadi also said he would not tolerate any human rights violations on the battlefield and that local officials were prepared to protect and help the displaced people.
Iraq's Joint Operations Command said troops had established control over the villages of Bajwaniyah, Bajwaniyah al-Thalatha, Daraj, Bakr al-Oula, Bakr al-Thani, al-Mankoubah and al-Raflah and raised the national flag over buildings.
At dawn Thursday, militias assisting the Iraqi army closed in on villages near Bashiqa where the presence of Turkish troops has sparked a bitter dispute between the two countries.
Field commanders said the "large-scale operation," launched at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) north and northeast of Mosul, was aimed at clearing nearby villages and securing control of strategic areas to further restrict Daesh movements.
US-made Daesh drone downed
Two drones flown by Daesh above the battlefield were brought down. The French news agency AFP said its reporter identified one of the downed drones as the Raven RQ-11B developed for the US military.
The US has deployed special forces to the theater as part of a 5,000-strong contingent in Iraq, saying they were assisting in the effort to dislodge Daesh from Mosul.
On Tuesday, the Syrian government accused the United States of allowing Takfiri terrorists to flee Mosul to Syria.
Iraqi forces launched their much-awaited offensive against Mosul on Monday, seeking to recapture the northern metropolis which has been held by Daesh since June 2014.
A high-ranking Iraqi general called upon Daesh terrorists to admit defeat and renounce violence amid reports that the Takfiri group was arbitrarily executing Mosul residents on suspicion of collaboration with the government.
Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati, commander of Iraq's Joint Operations Command, said the plan to retake the city "was going beyond expectations."
"Our forces are advancing and have surrounded the city. The liberation of Mosul will be swift," he told reporters on Wednesday.
“From this place, I appeal to all terrorists of Daesh to lay down weapons in order not to risk their lives so they can return to their families and cities,” he added. Shaghati said as many as 6,000 Daesh terrorists were inside the city.
Daesh leaders, their wives flee Mosul
Iraq’s Arabic-language al-Sumaria television said Daesh has evacuated scores of the wives of senior commanders of the group from Mosul to militant-held cities in Syria, including Raqqah.
The report said they had been evacuated on the order of Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to avoid capture by security forces or rebellious residents in Mosul.
Speculation about the whereabouts of Baghdadi is also rife, with former Iraqi foreign ministry Hoshiyar Zebari saying he was still in Mosul.
Commander of Federal Police Forces, Lieutenant General Raed Shaker Jawdat, said Iraqi security forces have cleansed 352 square kilometers of Daesh terrorists ever since the Mosul operation began on October 17.
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