(AFP) Iraqi forces piled pressure on the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) terrorist group around Mosul Thursday, moving closer to cutting off the terrorists’ escape route west to Syria and thrusting deeper into the east of the city.
Pro-government paramilitaries advancing on the town of Tal Afar, which commands the city’s west approaches, entered its airport, while troops moving up from the south had the Mosul airport in their sights.
Wounded civilians continued to stream out of the east of Mosul as government forces battled ISIL militants on the streets.
Mortar fire and bombs killed three children and wounded more than two dozen people on Thursday morning alone, one of the clinic’s staff, Hossam al-Nuri, told AFP.
“ISIL has planted bombs in large parts of Tal Afar airport and operations are under way to clear it completely,” the Popular Mobilization Forces said in a statement.
Control of Tal Afar, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Mosul, would bring pro-government forces closer to surrounding ISIL in its last major Iraqi stronghold.
South of Mosul, advancing troops were nearing the city’s airport. An officer with elite interior ministry forces said a planned advance on Thursday would bring them to within four kilometres (two and a half miles).
Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Thursday that included accounts by residents of the Hamam al-Alil area south of Mosul suggesting that a mass grave found there contains the bodies of former police killed by ISIL.
Most of the first weeks of fighting were in sparsely populated areas outside the city but forces are now pushing into heavily built-up areas where aid delivery is complicated.