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Iraqi forces push into ISIS-held pocket in Mosul

Iraqi special forces pushed deeper into ISIS-held districts in eastern Mosul on Tuesday, and army units battled the militants inside a military base in the north of the city, military officials said. ISIS has been driven out of most eastern districts of its Iraqi stronghold in the three months since the US-backed campaign began. Iraqi troops have seized large areas along the river, which bisects Mosul from north to south. Capture of the entire east bank, which military officials say is imminent, will allow the army, special forces and elite police units to begin attacks on the city’s west, still fully held by the militants. Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces pushed into the Eastern Nineveh and Souq al-Ghanam districts, which are flanked by areas held by Iraqi troops, spokesman Sabah al-Numan said.

The special forces have now taken control of the Andalus and Shurta neighborhoods, where they were fighting on Monday, Numan told a Reuters reporter in Mosul.“Roughly all the eastern axes for which CTS is responsible will be completed and we will announce the liberation of the entire eastern side,” he said, but did not specify when. A separate military statement said the CTS had also seized al-Muhandiseen district, nearly three miles further northwest, a short distance from the river.

In a parallel advance, Iraqi army troops in the north of the city moved into the Kindi military base, and were fighting insurgents inside, an army officer said. More than 60 neighborhoods in eastern Mosul – out of a total of around 80 – had been recaptured since the start of the offensive in October, Numan told state television. Advances have gathered pace in the new year thanks to improved battle tactics and coordination between different military branches, US and Iraqi military officials say. Further south, rapid response units of the Iraqi federal police have secured much of the eastern bank of the Tigris.

A spokesman for those forces, Lieutenant-Colonel Abdel Amir al-Mohammedawi, said some ISIS fighters had fled by boat across the river, taking civilians as human shields. “They fled the eastern bank for the west, and took women and children,” he told Reuters.ISIS has fought from among crowded residential areas and Reuters witnesses have seen its fighters shoot at civilians in areas they have been driven out of, in apparent efforts to slow the advance of Iraqi forces.

Several thousand civilians have been killed or wounded in fighting since October. Advances slowed towards the end of last year as the military sought to avoid hitting civilians, Iraqi military officials say.

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